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Millennials and Generation Z now make up 40 per cent of the population. But in politics, Boomers and Gen Xers still dominate the debate and are most likely to hold public office. With an election likely later this year, the weight of younger Canadians will matter more than ever before. What are the political priorities for millennial and Gen Z Canadians? The Environics Institute for Survey Research conducted an in-depth survey to find out. The report, which was offered in advance to The Globe and Mail, shows a diverse and politically engaged generation confident that it will solve problems of race and gender, and willing to engage with those of differing political views. Here are some highlights from the survey.


They think governments work, but need improving

One quarter of millennials (those between the ages of 25 and 40) and leading-edge Gen Zers (between 18 and 24) believe Canada’s federal, provincial and municipal governments work reasonably well. Four in 10 give government a passing grade, but cite major problems, such as failing to listen to the concerns of Canadians or address social issues. One-third think government is mostly or completely broken.

Confidence in government

Generally

working

Working but with

major problems

Broken, but working

in some ways

Completely

broken

Are governments in Canada

working or broken?

24%

42%

25%

9%

Single most important change governments need to make

Listen to the people/engage

future generations

12%

9%

Address social issues (misc.)

Be more accountable/

transparent

8%

Create more jobs

7%

More efficient spending/

balance budget

7%

5%

Improve healthcare

Address climate change/

pollution

4%

4%

Lower taxes

4%

 

Improve education systems

Abolish racism/more

social justice

4%

27%

Other changes

24%

Nothing/cannot say

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: environics institute for

survey research

Confidence in government

Generally

working

Working but with

major problems

Broken, but working

in some ways

Completely

broken

Are governments in Canada

working or broken?

24%

42%

25%

9%

Single most important change governments need to make

Listen to the people/engage

future generations

12%

9%

Address social issues (misc.)

Be more accountable/

transparent

8%

Create more jobs

7%

More efficient spending/

balance budget

7%

5%

Improve healthcare

Address climate change/

pollution

4%

4%

Lower taxes

4%

 

Improve education systems

Abolish racism/more

social justice

4%

27%

Other changes

24%

Nothing/cannot say

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: environics institute for

survey research

Confidence in government

Generally

working

Working but with

major problems

Broken, but working

in some ways

Completely

broken

Are governments in Canada

working or broken?

24%

42%

25%

9%

Single most important change governments need to make

Listen to the people/engage

future generations

12%

9%

Address social issues (misc.)

Be more accountable/transparent

8%

Create more jobs

7%

More efficient spending/

balance budget

7%

Improve healthcare

5%

Address climate change/pollution

4%

Lower taxes

4%

Improve education systems

4%

Abolish racism/more social justice

4%

Other changes

27%

Nothing/cannot say

24%

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: environics institute for survey research

Complications with national infrastructure projects are nothing new for Canada

The federal budget tells us what the Liberals care about, but also what they don’t

Some institutions work better than others

Large majorities of younger Canadians have high or medium levels of confidence in Canada’s health care, non-profit and postsecondary education systems. Clear majorities feel good about banks and schools. Bottom of the rung: media and big corporations. Samantha Reusch is executive director of Apathy is Boring, a non-partisan charitable organization that partnered with Environics in the study. She said that research shows younger people have a higher opinion of institutions with which they have direct experience. “The more responsive an institution is to their engagement, the more it increases their confidence,” she said in an interview.

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They are confident some, but not all, global issues can be solved

About two-thirds of younger Canadians are very or somewhat confident that real progress will be made at the global level to fight gender inequality; almost six in 10 think racism can be beaten back. But fewer than half hold that level of confidence when it comes to fighting climate change or reducing poverty. As with institutions, the key is lived experience, Ms. Reusch said. Gender and racial bias are experienced – and can be tackled – in the community. But “something like climate change or poverty and economic inequality are not issues that can be solved at the local level,” she said.

Some racialized groups have more faith in the system than others

Eight out of 10 younger Canadians of South Asian background have high or medium confidence in Canada’s justice system. Three-quarters of Chinese Canadians feel the same way, along with six in 10 Black Canadians. Slightly under half of Indigenous Canadians have high or medium confidence in police and the courts; slightly more than half have low confidence. One intriguing stat: both Black and white younger Canadians have an identical level of trust – or lack of it – in the system.

The better educated younger Canadians are, the more optimistic their outlook

Knowledge may or may not equal power, but it does equal confidence. On most issues, the better educated hold more positive views than the less educated. For example, on the question of satisfaction with how well democracy works, three-quarters of younger Canadians with a postsecondary or graduate degree are satisfied with the system, while only half of those who hadn’t finished high school felt the same way. “Education is among the most important factors in shaping youth outlook on most of the issues covered in the survey,” said Keith Neuman, senior associate at the Environics Institute. “Youth with higher levels of education also tend to feel a stronger sense of belonging to their local community.”

Many of them are heavily engaged with media

Half of all millennials and Gen Zers tune in to the news at least once or twice a day – a number that might be related to the pandemic. The rest, not so much. Their preferred media, by far, are social media, followed by television and online news platforms.

Frequency of following news and current events

Many times/day

Once, twice/day

Several times/week

Several times per month

Rarely/never

Total, 18-40 yrs.

20%

30%

26%

9%

14%

Media used to follow news and current events

By generation

Generation Z

Millennials

74%

Social media

65%

45%

Television

49%

Online news

platforms

34%

40%

24%

Radio

31%

25%

Print

newspaper

32%

17%

Online blogs

16%

15%

Online com-

mentary shows

 

14%

12%

Magazines

11%

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: environics

institute for survey research

Frequency of following news and current events

Many times/day

Once, twice/day

Several times/week

Several times per month

Rarely/never

Total, 18-40 years

20%

30%

26%

9%

14%

Media used to follow news and current events

By generation

Millennials

Generation Z

74%

Social media

65%

45%

Television

49%

Online news

platforms

34%

40%

24%

Radio

31%

25%

Print newspaper

32%

17%

Online blogs

16%

15%

Online com-

mentary shows

 

14%

12%

Magazines

11%

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: environics institute

for survey research

Frequency of following news and current events

Many times/day

Once, twice/day

Several times/week

Several times per month

Rarely/never

Total, 18 to 40 years

20%

30%

26%

9%

14%

Media used to follow news and current events

By generation

Millennials

Generation Z

74%

Social media

65%

45%

Television

49%

Online news

platforms

34%

40%

24%

Radio

31%

25%

Print newspaper

32%

17%

Online blogs

16%

15%

Online com-

mentary shows

 

14%

12%

Magazines

11%

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: environics institute for survey research

They are politically diverse and tolerant of the other side

About one in four younger Canadians place themselves on the left of the political spectrum, while one in five are on the right, with more than a third in the middle. The most encouraging news may be that most of them engage with people they disagree with – and not just by trolling them on Twitter. More than half of millennials and leading-edge Gen Zers say they regularly engage in person with people who hold differing political views. “Fewer than half of youth say all or most of their friends are people who think the way they do,” Mr. Neuman said, “and most interact online or in person with people whose views are different.”

Those on the right are more optimistic than those on the left

While only three in 10 younger Canadians are optimistic about the way things will go over the next 10 years, and more than four in 10 are pessimistic, those on the right are considerably more optimistic than those on the left.

Give them a shot, and they’ll change the world

About eight in 10 Gen Zers and two-thirds of millennials are somewhat or very confident that their generation will make a positive impact on society over the next several decades. Like the young Canadians who came before them, ”they believe things can change and they don’t feel tied to the way things have always been done,” Ms. Reusch said. “When paired with older generations who bring experience and understanding of the intricacies of how these systems work, that’s a powerful partnership.”

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Methodology: The Environics Institute for Survey Research, a non-profit social research institute, in partnership with Apathy is Boring, a non-profit that encourages youth political engagement, surveyed 5,264 Canadians between 18 and 40 between Sept. 8 and Nov. 9 2020, stratifying age, gender and location based on 2016 Census data. The survey oversampled Black and Indigenous participants for greater accuracy.

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