Surprise! It’s millennials who talk about politics most ​

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Participation Wednesday, November 09, 2016 View Count = 2612

Surprise! It’s millennials who talk about politics most ​

In the 2008 election, Barack Obama used social media to galvanize the youth vote in a way no candidate has done before or since.

In this election, he became the first president to use Snapchat. On November 1, he appeared on Snapchat’s political show to encourage millennials to vote. “If I can figure out how to Snapchat, you can figure out how to go vote,” Obama said, holding up a phone to record himself.

WH Snapcode

Obama’s 2008 election showed texts, tweets, and photos can be channeled to support a political cause. His online movement resonated offline, and increased youth turnout to a level that may have made the difference in getting him elected.

In the 2015 Canadian federal election, no campaign launched a social media juggernaut in the same way as Obama. Even so, Canadians discussed the campaign on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and other social media channels. And they discussed it offline, too. 

“Can You Hear Me Now?”, Samara’s new report, asked Canadians the methods they used to discuss politics, and how they shared their voting experience.

The results show that despite advice to never discuss politics in polite company, young Canadians discuss politics with friends, family and colleagues. Youth were actually the most likely group to discuss politics during the 78-day campaign: 72% said they discussed politics, compared to 62% of those aged 30 to 55 and 58% of those 56 and over.

Samara’s previous research into how young people engage in politics showed that young people were willing to protest, boycott and especially talk about issues that concerned them at higher rates than older Canadians. “Can You Hear Me Now?” shows young people were also more active conversationalists than older Canadians during the election.

Contrary to expectations, young people weren’t only engaging online: young people reported the highest rates of contact offline, with 63% of 18-to 29-year-olds saying they discussed politics face to face or on the phone. Across all five forms of discussion, young people reported speaking about politics the most.

In fact, in every method used to talk about politics, activity declines as people age.

methods used to talk

Sharing is not just for Facebook

Not only did they discuss politics, young Canadians also shared their voting experience at higher rates than older people. Indeed, only 36% of young people kept their voting experience to themselves, while 60% of Canadians aged 56 or older did.

In terms of method, 53% of young Canadians spoke about their experience voting on the phone or in person, while only 33% of Canadians aged 56 or older did. These patterns capture a generational shift in attitude, from voting as a private act of duty to voting as a social, shared experience.

Since we know that social pressure—seeing a trusted friend do something—can have a strong effect on voting, young people themselves encouraged voting in their social group, just through the act of sharing.

“Digital natives” once again defied expectations when it came to sharing: Among 18- to 29-year-olds, the most popular way to communicate their voting experience was in real life (phone or in person), with only 13% sharing their voting experience on Facebook and 4% sharing on Twitter.

method used to share
Young Canadians are interested in sharing their voting experience with others. They are hyper-connected and avid communicators—both in real life and online—and as such they are effectively positioned to shape the views of their fellow peers and voters.

We saw this in the 2015 election, when nearly 70% of youth said their friends encouraged them to vote, compared to 45% of older Canadians.

Public opinion is no longer swayed by endorsements, such as those from a newspaper’s editorial board. Parties and candidates must seek new influencers. Our research on how Canadians talk about politics shows political parties would be wise to reach voters directly and encourage them to talk to each other.

Social media offers candidates a way to do this, and it’s why Obama took to Snapchat, why the Clinton vs. Trump Twitter war has become central to the election, and why even Tinder is in on the action.

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Read the entire “Can You Hear Me Now?” report for more on how Canadians of different generations experienced the 2015 election.

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