One of the many groups in whose hands the fate of our nation lies, is generation Z. Though it has become common to call all the entitled and undereducated left-indoctrinated young brats like myself “millennials”, it’s worth noting that the latest batch of voters are no such thing. Eighteen-year olds today were born after the turn of the millennium.
Some sources I’ve read say that Generation Z—you have to pronounce this ‘zed’, because ‘zee’ just sounds stupid—are those who were born after 1995. Others say 1997 or 1998. I’ve decided to go with 1996, just to be different. And I’m going to say some really broad generalisations, so, trigger warning.
Predicting how Z will vote is a fascinating pastime. Some optimistic reports are suggesting that they may herald in a conservative resurgence. Upholders of this opinion believe that educators have overplayed their hand, imbibing these poor young souls with relativistic nonsense. Trying to draft these useful idiots into their social constructionist army was a step too far, and they’re about to get a taste of biological reality. They are banking on the natural rebellion phase that late teenagers go through; these days being conservative is more rebellious than being hippy.
However, the support for this hypothesis is much contested. It’s quite certain that some of the next generation are rebelling against leftyness. They talk online about the “red pill” – a reference from The Matrix to a realisation that the world you thought you knew was all a big lie. Men and women are different, gender is based in biology, immigration control is not necessarily racist, climate change is questionable, you can’t be anything you want to be even if you try really hard, the world is everyone else’s oyster, and Donald Trump’s doing an ok job and… where do the lies end? Though it’s applied mostly to the issue of feminism, it’s a poignant metaphor, indicating the magnitude of the betrayal that some youth feel.
But these youth, mostly young men, are a minority; most Gen Z are true-to-form products of their times.
We won’t know how this next generation will vote until they actually do. But we can contemplate some of the factors that will play into their decisions. The heavily left-normalising education they have received is one factor.
Another factor is the political scene that they have lived through to establish their “norm”. Generation Z haven’t seen an Australian prime minister serve a full term since they were eleven years old or younger—i.e. never, because they can’t really remember back that far.
How much does Gen Z really know? Some of them will successfully draw a line around their own political position, but do they know which party that aligns them with? The traditional associations of parties are breaking down. The workingman’s parties are now elitist, the business world is going woke, and a billionaire can be a middle-class populist (Trump, not Palmer—I can’t see that one playing out). It used to be that the right thought the left was stupid, and the left thought the right was evil—now the left own the universities and think the right are stupid and evil.
A big question is – how to communicate with Z? Thanks to social media, they get their ideas more from one another than from “sources”. How does one break into that? Marketers will probably tell you to dumb down the message for them and make it bite-size, like you would have chopped their meat up for them a few years back. But if both sides do that we’ll only have dumb half-sentences everywhere.
Another question is, which policies would win them? This election, they get to vote, but they aren’t yet paying taxes. They haven’t yet entered the workforce proper. They haven’t had children. They should care and know something about tertiary education, but experientially they’re getting it for free because they won’t have to pay for it for several years. Do they even know what they want?
I’ve found it difficult to get good demographic voter statistics in Australia, but I did manage to spend some time analysing a free online dataset from the Australian Election Study, who have comparable election data going back to 1987. The youngest age-bracket of voters in their 2016 election survey results were born between 1991 and 1998, so there’s a dash of Gen Z in there.
This cohort deviated from the older groups in a few interesting ways. For instance, they were asked to identify if they considered themselves to be left-wing (0) or right-wing (10) or somewhere in between (five if they weren’t sure). The average result was 3.8, the most left-wing response that the survey has ever received from any age-group since they started asking the question in 1996. The same group gave the Labor party 4.8 and the Greens 3.3. It’s no wonder the Greens are successful then; the youngest generation identified themselves as more left than Labor.
The survey also asked whether they tended to be partisan, and what the direction of their political partisanship was. Since 1987, Liberals have hovered around 25 per cent for that age-bracket. Labor have dropped heavily from over 50 per cent in 1987 to just 28 per cent today. Where did those supporters go? Well, the Greens have gone from not being on the survey, to getting 2.3 per cent in 1996 to holding a whopping 23 per cent of partisan loyalty from the youngest age group, and 15 per cent from the next. Both of those figures roughly doubled between 2013 and 2016.
The respondents from the youngest age-group were the most likely to base their vote on policy issues, rather than party leaders (the highest result ever for the survey). Surprisingly, the policy issues that mattered to them were the same as other generations: health, education and management of the economy. Even the environment and global warming were not that important to them. However, unlike older generations, they preferred the Labor policy over the Liberal one in every category (including “taxation”) except for “management of the economy”, leading one to wonder whether they actually read any of the policies or just ‘felt good about them’.
Last interesting fact: the youngest age-group were, by a significant margin, the least likely to use how-to-vote cards, at less than 20 per cent. (Oh, and none of them watch the leader debate, but that’s not just their age-group, no-one watches that anymore.)
By this data, the outlook doesn’t look good for the right or even the centre. Either the latest generation are increasingly raging lefties, or right-wingers are decreasingly likely to fill out surveys. Both are plausible hypotheses.
Another hypothesis getting around today is that Generations Y and Z will become more right-wing as they get older. There’s a logic to this and some evidence for it. Each demographic has a natural political bent. Women tend to be more left-wing. (It might be dangerous these days to say this, but this is consistent with feminine traits. A left-wing view of government is more “maternal”, defining its role as providing everyone with what they need.) Most libertarians are men, which also makes sense to me. At a young age, the instinct to leave the nest can be very strong in some.
Older people may indeed tend to be more right wing, by similar logic. It’s ok to spend your time fighting for liberty or equality in your youth, but once you’ve had children, you gain some appreciation for hierarchy itself. Stability is good. Someone needs to be making decisions. The roles of government to provide protection and justice rise to the fore.
It’s a nice vision, but in the AES data I saw no evidence of Gen Y become more right-wing yet. In fact, even those born after the sixties appear to be becoming more left-wing over time, though it’s hard to tell for sure due to the resolution of the data. (We need to do generational studies, but often collect the wrong data for it, as recently discussed by Rory Sutherland).
The biggest factor for Gen Y’s politics is, in my opinion, sense of entitlement. That’s likely to apply to Gen Z also. Collectively, they are spoilt brats, because Australia’s a great, safe place with a fantastic welfare safety-net and they’ve had everything they ever needed.
My hypothesis, and this is where that trigger warning may come in handy, is that they have been implicitly taught to expect the government to be like their parents. This is the generation who didn’t have stay-at-home mums. This generation learnt “sex ed” from their teachers, or department of education videos. Many of them don’t leave home and don’t have children until their thirties (if at all).
It doesn’t occur to them to “ask not what their country may do for them, but what they may do for their country”. The mode of thinking for both Gen Y and Z is that their electricity, food, clothing, the building they live in, etc… these things just are. The government just is, and it should just give them what they need to be happy. They expect the government to make the rich kids share their toys, and stop the nasty kids from saying mean things. They live in this country, but haven’t taken that adult step of realising that they are this country.
Surveys and data only tell us a blurry image of what is. But what could be? There’s a real opportunity to be had with Gen Z. Their politics isn’t a function of biology. In fact, they’re biologically no different to their great-grandparents who, in their day, lied about their age in order to join the army and protect their families.
I think that, despite their survey responses, Generations Z and Y need less policy carrots, and more discussion of principles. Many of them have been taught a paradigm of oppressors and victims, steeped in the politics of envy (contradictory though it is to their own privileged state). Many of our young are not being taught about the benefits of capitalism and free enterprise, about nation-building, the history of the technological revolution, about the real consequences of socialism and communism, about freedom of speech and of religion. You’ve turned eighteen now, cupcake, stop whingeing and start working.
These are the things they need contrasted. Policy offers may be part of the solution; policies often look like bribes, but maybe if used right they could be vehicles to teach about the principles of a party. In any case, the right need somehow to champion their ideas – or this nanny state is gonna run out of milk.
Note: The author is squarely in the middle of Gen Y, and hence is allowed to say this stuff.
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