The Rising Political Power of Millennials

Happy Millennial Month! For the month of April Abacus is going to be sharing our insights on the Millennial generation. Every day there will be new content for you to view, to help you understand Canada’s most influential generation. This all comes on the heels of our syndicated Canadian Millennials Report, the largest re-occurring survey of Millennials in Canada. For more information on the Canadian Millennials Report and for the latest news of our research on Millennials visit Abacus Millennials, our hub for all things Millennial.

Millennials are everywhere. From the TV to magazines, to your favourite news website you can’t go anywhere without hearing something about my generation. Which frankly is understandable given the impact we’re having on pretty much everything.

Consider this, in2006, the top five most valued publicly traded companies in the world were ExxonMobil, GE, Microsoft, Citigroup, and British Petroleum. Today they are Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Facebook. While technological change has affected everyone, regardless of their generation, the rapid rise of brands like Google, Amazon, and Facebook occurred in large measure to the corresponding emergence of Millennials as North America and Europe’s largest consumer group.

But beyond the disruption in the consumer market, a story less often told is the impact this generation is having on politics and public affairs in countries around the world, including Canada.

More Millennials are now eligible to vote in Canada than baby boomers. Justin Trudeau is the oldest of the three major party leaders 46, and youth engagement in politics is on the rise. We are experiencing a youthquake right before our eyes.

Ask most people about youth political participation and they will say young people don’t vote.

But in the 2015 Canadian federal election, youth voter turnout skyrocketed by 20 percentage points and because the Liberals captured the largest share of these new voters, Millennials helped turn what looked like a fragile Liberal minority government into a stable Liberal majority government. Considering this, it was no great wonder that Prime Minister Trudeau appointed himself Minister of Youth following the election: young people were critical to his win.

The same story is repeating itself in other democracies around the world. In the last UK general election, we saw the most lopsided generational vote in British History. According to the British Election Study, 49% and 55% of Millennial men and women respectively voted Labour while only 28% and 27% voted Conservative. While youth voter turnout was only up slightly, the one-sided polarization shattered Theresa May’s hopes for a substantial majority government. The millions of young Brits who voted for Jeremy Corbin and the Labour Party left the Conservative Prime Minister with an unstable minority in a hung parliament. In Italy, young voters swarmed the polls and made the country’s anti-establishment Five Star Movement the largest party in its parliament. And let us not forget that it was the decisive power of Millennials that lofted Barack Obama to power back in 2008. Millennials were also critical to Bernie Sanders’ movement, and the defeat of Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump (by their lack in participation).

There are about 9.5 million of us in Canada – we have the power to shift markets, pick winners and losers, and disrupt the status quo. My advice to all organizations advocating for policy change with government decision makers at all levels is simple: don’t ignore the awakening of youth political engagement and the millions of Millennials behind it. Embrace them, understand them, and find a way to align your issues with their concerns and broader values.

Who are the Millennials?

Born between 1980 and 2000 and raised around the turn of the millennium, Millennials or members of Generation Y are different from other generations for two primary reasons: how we were raised and the role of technology in our lives.

The starting point is our parents most Millennials are the children of Baby Boomers. This simple fact explains so much of the way they think and behave. We were raised to believe we are special, the world is ours for the taking. We grew up in a world of positive-reinforcement, helicopter parenting, and constant feedback.

Millennials are also digital natives. We grew up with technology and have made it a central part of our lives. To the 94% of millennials who own a smart phone, that device is our most trusted assistant. It’s our bank, our travel agent, our newspaper, our telephone, our music player, and our weather person. That device lets us watch the video content we crave, order food, and get us from one place to the next (by using the Uber app in many cities).
And to the 85% of Canadian Millennials who check Facebook at least once a day, social media is how we stay connected, find out what’s happening in the world, and increasingly the way we learn about and connect with brands.

The combination of social media and mobile technology has also created a perfect-storm of connectivity that changes the way Millennials consume and process media and news content; source credibility is being steadily overtaken and trumped by interesting content of a diverse variety and range. We have moved from a world where people actively seeked out news and information to a passive one, where the information we consume is delivered to pre-curated news feeds, isolated from people, perspectives, and ideas outside of our networks.

So, what does this mean for how you engage the public and design your advocacy strategies with government?
Here’s a few tips:
1. Recognize that Millennials are a powerful force that is reshaping political life at all levels of government.
2. Learn and understand what we care about and what priorities are shaping our thinking. The top issues for Millennials in Canada are affordable housing, jobs, affordability of post-secondary education, and healthcare. We are insecure about our future and a growing number feel that our generation won’t be as well off as the ones that came before us.
3. Tell your story in an authentic and engaging way. To bring Millennials along, you need to have a compelling story that is emotional, connects with our priorities, and calls us to action. Remember, we don’t just do something because it’s what we should do or because it’s always been done a certain way. We need to be asked.

Businesses and organizations that succeed over the next decades will be the ones who embraced change and best understood my generation. In the next few years, Amazon could become the first trillion dollar company, Netflix viewership may dwarf all Canadian TV networks combined, and we likely see autonomous cars on the road. What is far more certain is that Millennials will dominate our politics for the next 30 years in the same way their parents, the boomers, did for the past 30.

The majority of this data came from the Canadian Millennials Report which is Canada’s largest reoccurring syndicated publication dedicated to understanding the views of Canadian Millennials. We survey 2,000 Millennials twice a year tracking their attitudes over time and their perceptions of current issues.

At Abacus Data we take understanding the next generation seriously. We are the only research and strategy firm that can help your business or organization respond to the unprecedented threat of generational change and technological disruption. If you want to know how your business or organization can succeed in the Millennial Marketplace Contact us to learn about our array of bespoke products and services that can make you an industry leader.

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