Millennials and Gen Z make up the largest voting bloc in Canada, but a combination of widespread disinterest in, and apathy about, politics and perceived voting barriers is leading to consistently low voter turnout in this voting bloc during elections.
Many young people do not identify with the current political landscape or those who are at the helm. Millennials and Gen Z are looking for more diverse political representation and relevant policies aimed at their interests, such as climate action and housing affordability.
Why millennial and Gen Z voter turnout and engagement matters
Voting is habit-forming. Those who vote in their first election will most likely be lifelong voters, but those who do not will probably not pick up the habit later in life. Being such a large cohort of Canada’s population — the eventual backbone of our economy — millennials and Gen Z are an essential group for politicians to engage with and promote their policies to in order to maintain relevance and succeed during elections. In many ways, it is an imperative for the health of our future continued democracy that these habits are formed now.
Currently, millennials and Gen Z do not decide elections, but that will change in the future as more Gen Z become eligible to vote. We can look to the UK in 2016’s Brexit vote where the majority of young people voted to remain a part of the European Union. Had youth turned out to vote in the same numbers Brits over 65 had, Britain would still be a part of the EU right now.
How do youth consume information?
Digital information sources are the go-to for these age groups, where news and entertainment can be consumed in highly digestible, brief segments. Studies have shown that millenials and Gen Z have an average attention span of less than 15 seconds. This is an incredibly short time for would-be elected officials to grab their attention and increase awareness of their name and policy priorities.
Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok have the highest monthly usage among youth — platforms on which politics is not a topic discussed or highlighted nearly as much as on other platforms like Twitter and Facebook (more commonly frequented by Canadians 35 and older). Unfortunately, political parties and politicians are not providing engaging with millennials and Gen Z where they are and we’re seeing a low youth voter turnout as a result.
Are political parties motivating millennials and Gen Z with their current approach?
Currently, political parties in Ontario are not effectively motivating these generations to get involved with politics. We’re not seeing the younger demographic discussing politics or the Ontario election. If they are, it is on popular accounts that repost news headlines to inspire discussion among their mostly young followers. An example is popular Toronto-based Instagram account 6ixBuzz.
To their credit, the Progressive Conservatives have been arguably the most effective at engaging with Instagram users in the comments section, replying to questions and feedback. This is a good demonstration of meeting young voters on the platform where they consume information — but it does not go far enough. This strategy would need to be replicated on a much larger and integrated scale to have measurable effect on youth engagement.
What can politicians and political parties do to get out the youth vote?
The solution is for politicians to prioritize millennials and Gen Z. They need to meet these generations on the platforms where they consume their information, with targeted policies that drive interest. This includes developing effective, eye-catching content, which speaks to them on a human level.
Investing in sponsored content, such as Snapchat’s Discover tab, a place for users to get snippets of daily news, or Instagram Stories is a simple way to communicate relevant policies on the medium where they will be most impactful to the target audience. TikTok would be another great platform for parties’ content, but it can backfire if the videos uploaded are deemed “cringe.”
It is also important for parties to deliver policy initiatives in the vernacular in which millennials and Gen Z speak: if youth can talk to their friends about it, interest will increase. But there is onus on political parties to develop policies relevant to these generations — climate action, cost of living, accessibility to housing. These are the things that matter to Canadians under 35, and they would like to hear meaningful and realistic plans to address them.
If political parties want to duplicate the success Barack Obama had in 2008, or Justin Trudeau had in 2015, they will need to take these generations seriously and present policy that matters to them, where they are.