Gen-Z Heads Up Leadership in Weber County, Hopes to Bring Out the Youth Vote
With Election Day within punching distance, Weber County’s Zach Thomas is all about the business of turning the county blue—and having voters show up to the polls in this municipal and special-service election cycle. Those voters, like Weber’s party leadership, fall into a new demographic-- Generation Z.
Re-elected as party chair back in April, 19-year-old Thomas perfectly illustrates Generation-Z, not only because of his age but his social media agility. His being young is a spot-on map to Weber’s demographics: Weber County is the fourth-youngest county in Utah, and Utah is the youngest state in the country, according to the 2018 United States Census. While the median age is 30, the biggest voting block is the over-65-crowd, a clear dichotomy from Weber County Democratic leadership. Thomas is working to get out his generation’s vote.
“Though the United States as a whole is aging rapidly, there are parts of the country where the number of young people is a defining demographic characteristic,” observes researcher Samuel Stebbins of 24 Wall Street. Stebbins just concluded a major report of county demographics across the country.
The Gen-Z Influence in Weber County Leadership
This election cycle, the influence of Gen-Z is definitely underway in the region.
Thomas possesses an oxymoronic sweet spot which might really make a difference in this year’s municipal election: He simultaneously possesses strangely old-soul youth paired with the age-old seriousness that accompanies a heavy mantle of responsibility.
It takes a certain amount of energy to walk in Thomas’ shoes, he carries eight credits at Weber State University, works nearly full time (36 hours--that ugly Utah standard- to just-escape the regulations around the 40-hour work week), and serves leadership roles at the county and state level Democratic Party organizations.
Thomas is joined in the county party leadership by his long-time friend, fellow Gen-Z, and Weber State College colleague Jaden Priest.
Priest, who also heads the WSU Democrats, joined executive leadership in the spring as secretary, a few months before turning 19. Both Thomas and Priest hold a multi-platform social media presence as a means to draw in would-be voters of their generation.
“We’re better at reaching out to them,” explains Thomas, referencing the constellation of Gen Z-centered marketing efforts in terms of social-media, digital-marketing, and other strategic campaigns that have been launched throughout the county in general and on WSU campus in specific.
The art of the campaign, though, is not restricted to newfangled means.
“We do so many different aspects of communication,” Thomas assures, “and are seeing people come in from all walks of life.”
Daily phone calls, traditional marketing communications mailers, and ongoing, relationship-building events to recruit volunteers are all part of the mix.
Thomas clearly agrees that left-leaning and left-camped voters took a huge hit with the 2016 election.
In his other role—as a member of the Utah Democratic Party as “chair of chairs” over the 29 county parties in the state—he helps fundraise for 2020 legislative seat-flipping and Utah’s contributions to political campaigns.
To kick complacency and disillusion from past voting cycles, he is steadfast and optimistic.
“We are all focused on the local—giving young people something to fight for.”
The secret sauce for Weber Dems, says Thomas, is “moderation.”
“I’m decently moderate myself—you really have to be,” he observes. “We’ve found here that a more moderate agenda works. The progressive agenda is great, but we have to win races first to have any say.”
Beyond Campaigns to the Real Deal--Candidates
A hallmark of Generation Z is voters who are cynical and are more focused on candidates than campaigning.
“We do our best to get people to vote, but it’s up to our candidates at the end of the day,” shares Thomas.
Thomas indicates his office has a part-time field coordinator to help with select campaigns and deliver volunteers to support those causes. Not every democratic candidate will get help from the party.
“I am beyond impressed with how involved Zach Thomas is with the party,” shares Angel Castillo, mayoral candidate for Ogden. “If anyone can get traditionally sluggish Gen Z turnout to improve, it’s Zach.”
His activism throughout Utah has allowed Thomas the chance to get to know a number of candidates running for both parties, but here in Weber County, a few certainly stand out. Asked to sum up the strongest candidates running in the region, Thomas zeroed in on three. It should be noted, they are all women.
Ogden Mayoral Candidate Angel Castillo Strength – “She has stuck with the facts.” Consistency – “Consistent with messaging.” Trust and Honesty
West Haven City Council Candidate Nina Morse Passionate – “Passionate about West Haven and whatever she puts her mind to.” Personable – “Everyone that meets her has a good impression.” Straightforward – “Not afraid to speak her mind. Development is the No. 1 issue, and she has a very responsible approach to development out there—looking at every aspect.”
Riverdale City Council Candidate Jessica Fiveash Passionate Responsible Positive – “She is a very positive person and has a good outlook on things.” Thomas says she demonstrated this positivity Fiveash exhibited in supporting the 2018 Utah House of Representatives campaign bid by Jason Allen.
Building More Than an Election Outcome—Creating a Culture
In the end, Weber County leadership is a mixed bag when it comes to age. These two Gen Z leaders are joined by their Millennial vice chair Aubrey Allen and Boomer treasurer Linda Mitchell to round out the executive board. All are pursuing Gen Z-like tactics to cultivate not just near-term turnout but a long-term Democratic “culture” says Thomas.
Here, Thomas is exhibiting that 4-D thinking trait—not just going for the short-term win, but laying the groundwork for next-year’s legislative-seat flipping, and longer-term statewide influence for Weber County.
“Weber County is certainly an area that can be blue, and that we want to make be blue,” says Jeff Merchant, newly-elected chair of the Utah Democratic Party. “Weber County is a bellwether.”
Merchant’s labeling the county a “bellwether” for the Democratic Party across the state means both in terms of leadership qualities exhibited by Thomas and—in a prescient sense—in terms of its return to blue as the norm.
“Before we can convince anyone to vote for a candidate, vote for a party,” surmises Thomas, “we have to convince them to vote.”