Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Millennial Elections

Earlier this week I was listening to an older episode of CBC's The Pollcast.  In the episode Eric Grenier interviewed David Coletto of Abacus Research about the impact Millennials  had, are having, and will have on elections. The old wrap that young people don't vote is quickly not being applicable to Millennials. The oldest of the generation are turning 38 this year, and the youngest (which is dependent upon how you define Millennials) are either already or turning the voting age.

My generation is hardly homogeneous. Different opinions exist within each generation, but it can be useful to think of broader trends, especially when contrasting to other cohorts. We have elections that may illustrate real world examples of Millennial voting behaviour.

In some elections it is clear that Boomers (born 1946-1964) and Millennials have diverged sharply on certain questions. It's not unusual for issues to break down along generational lines, but a number of elections seemed to have hinged on the gap between Millennials and others. Brexit is a great case in point. Younger people overwhelmingly voted to remain within the European Union, while older Brits voted to leave. Coletto suggests in the podcast that Millennials were key for Barack Obama to winning the primary and the general elections, and supporting Bernie Sanders and as a result leading to Hillary Clinton's defeat.

As discussed in The Pollcast Millennials have already important sway in elections in Canada. The 2011 federal election, the 2014 Alberta provincial election, the 2015 federal election, the 2017 Calgary mayoral election and the 2017 British Columbia provincial election. In each case Millennials broke for the winning party and may have made a significant difference. In each case they backed a centrist or left-wing party and helped them edge out a victory.

Millennials tend to skew left, but I'm not so sure that is an accurate way to read my generation. I think certain concepts are accepted as political orthodoxy by Millennials in general, such as basic legal equality, gay rights, legalization of certain drugs, etc. However, the embracing of the left we've seen by Millennials I think more accurately reflects their precarious economic situation. My generation may support things like pharmacare and free tuition because economic fortunes seem so grim. I think it may be more accurate to say Millennials are polarizing and perhaps becoming more extreme, or open to political extremes/radical ideas. I see this on the right and left. On the right a generation that seems lost is fertile ground for blaming others for failed promises and drift. This is an element that will need to be carefully watched going forward.

As my cohort ages it will have a greater say in the form and shape of our politics. We are already determining the results of elections, and in the future political parties will rely on those born after 1980 for victory. We already may be seeing this happening in Canada in upcoming provincial elections and the federal election next year. As demographics change so does our politics, and we are in the midst of it now. 

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