Can millennials carry Wynne?
How to harness a “youthquake?”
Whichever party can divine a way to do that in next year’s federal election will form government, according to some ground breaking data on millennials being released this week by Abacus Data.
For the first time, millennials will be the dominant voting block in a federal election in 2019. That’s also the case in this June’s Ontario election.
That’s 9.5 million voters, those who will be aged 19-39, when federal ballots are cast next year.
There are signs that political parties understand there’s a revolution underway, one that has the potential to turn Canadian politics on its head.
For years, or so the adage went, parties didn’t court the youth vote, because they didn’t go to the polls. Younger voters said they checked out of the process because politicians had nothing for them. The dance continued. That circle is being broken, says David Coletto, the 36year-old Abacus CEO and author of the study, who says it has been most notable over the past three years at all levels of government.
He has been surveying 2,000 Canadian millennials twice a year to track their thoughts on current affairs, brands, governments and ideas.
His findings could unlock political success for any party.
Millennials may believe the economy is doing well, but not necessarily believe it is doing well for them.
Many lack the protections older generations have taken for granted — only 55 per cent had access to drug insurance, 53 per cent had dental insurance, only 36 per cent had an RRSP and a mere 29 per cent had access to an employerprovided pension plan.
Overwhelmingly, the issue for this voting block is housing affordability. They see other generations sitting comfortably in houses that have earned money for them while they are unable to break into the market themselves. They prefer government spending over balanced budgets (understood by Justin Trudeau and Kathleen Wynne), don’t believe corporations pay their fair share of taxes, don’t believe income inequality has been properly addressed and are more comfortable with big interventionist government.
They also want to see action on climate change, policies to lift people out of poverty and a more open immigration system.
Wynne, of all politicians of any stripe at any level has been the most aggressive in courting millennials.
Without them coming out in droves to vote for her in June, re-election seems a long shot.
So she has raised the minimum wage, instituted rent controls, launched pharmacare for everyone under 25, offered free post-secondary tuition for low- and middle-income families and offered free child care for pre-schoolers.
So, you win the millennials, you win the vote? Not so fast.
There are two problems with this strategy.
Millennials do not yet have a track record of reliability and it may still be a safer bet to target the over 60s who offer rock solid turnout rates.
And the way they receive their political information is sure to be a major issue, already highlighted by the Facebook Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal. Policies may not be enough. Millennials can point to great influence in recent years.
The youth voter turnout jumped by 20 per cent in 2015, pushing Trudeau to a majority.
In the United Kingdom, a lopsided millennial vote for Labour Leader Jeremy Corbin left Conservative Theresa May with a wobbly minority government.
In the U.S., they provided the oxygen in Bernie Sanders Democratic nomination race and helped elect Donald Trump by abandoning Hillary Clinton after Sanders was defeated.
Coletto feels none of the parties has dealt with housing affordability head on, but Trudeau’s Liberals have at least branded themselves properly for millennials with commitments to gender equality and climate change, even if they have fallen short on policy.
The outlier at both levels of government when seeking millennial support would be federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford.
Again, Coletto says, this is a branding misfire — there is millennial policy space for both — because none sound progressive on gender-based or sexual orientation-based equality and both have ignored millennials’ preference for substantive climate change action.
“There is huge intolerance for intolerance,” Coletto says.
Those are the issues, but there is still the delivery.
How do we guard against voting manipulation as we move into what experts call a third generation of targeting technologies that stay out of the grasp of policy-makers and endanger our democracy as we put more and more surveillance sensors in our homes?
More on that in a subsequent column.