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The “Millennial Dialogue” in North America: What do the neighbours think?

Here is a piece I wrote for the FEPS-Generation Progress “Millennial Dialogue”, but after my departure to AudienceNet. It appears here on the project’s dedicated website. 

Screenshot 2015-07-07 17.06.05As one would expect, the survey shows many commonalities between millennials in the US and Canada. Their respective hobbies and interests were very similar with music, new technology and cinema coming out on top in both countries. However, there were particular differences that fit into an overall narrative of separate identity. Young Americans show much higher religiosity (53%) than their Canadian counterparts (40%). This divergence is reflected in the political realm too, with interest in politics among US millennials noticeably higher than their northern neighbours. Still, like in many of the surveys conducted as part of the millennial dialogue, political interest is low in both countries.

On this point, there are also noticeable differences in how each group explains the situation with Canadians proffering extrinsic explanations for political apathy and Americans offering procedural and intrinsic reasons. Throughout the qualitative parts of the survey, Canadians indicated that there were too many distractions in modern life to pursue an interest in politics. Politics, they say, simply cannot compete with the alternatives offered by social media and other hobbies. In the US, millennials express a distinct distaste for the practice of politics. Here the focus is on negative campaigning tactics from candidates, polemical discourse and polarising bipartisanship. These merge to leave a sour taste in the mouth of the average young American. It is interesting to note that, in contrast to Canadians, social media do not receive much blame from young Americans. One can perhaps attribute this to the manner in which connected technologies were used so effectively by the two “Obama for President” campaigns to mobilise young people. Thus, in the US connectivity is seen as an asset to politics, while in Canada it is a distraction.

There were also areas of comparison and contrast in policy priorities. Healthcare, education and job creation were considered to be the top priorities in both countries, but healthcare was a considerably higher priority among Canadians, perhaps reflecting the long history of universalism in that country. Added to this, millennials in the US had defence as a much higher priority at 67% (53% for Canada) while they also gave greater priority to foreign aid at 48% (41% for Canada), reflecting the more prominent position of geopolitical issues American political discourse relative to that of Canada.

On issues of expanding civil rights, identity politics and gender expression, young people in both countries show a broadly progressive outlook. Indeed on the characteristics considered most important among politicians, progressive parties fared better in both countries, favouring the New Democratic Party and the Liberal Party in Canada, as well as the Democrats in the US. There was, however, a higher demand in the US to increase the proportion of women in politics at 47% as opposed to 37% in Canada. It is possible that this reflects a stronger history of gender representation in Canadian politics.

Overall, the “Millennial Dialogue” has provided fascinating insights into the young cohorts of these neighbouring countries in North America. They have so much in common and yet they are separated by virtue of history, circumstance and their countries’ respective roles in the world.

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