Recommendations – Generation Z: Portrait of a New Generation of Young Canadians and How They Compare to Older Canadians
Based on past research and the portrait of Generation Z presented in this report, we offer a series of recommendations for various actors, including social, political and institutional actors, that may play a role in stimulating youth political engagement and participation. We acknowledge that any single actor in society cannot be solely responsible for educating and informing youth about elections and democracy, and that collaboration between societal actors and the combination of education and information initiatives have more potential to diminish obstacles, especially as they relate to electoral participation, and ensure that Canadians can exercise their democratic right to vote.
Our recommendations are divided into four key themes:
- political socialization and democratic education
- disseminating information and communication strategies
- access to the electoral process
- other initiatives promoting engagement in Canadian democracy
Under each theme, we offer some recommendations intended for Elections Canada and separate recommendations for other actors, including political parties, schools and other social groups.
We acknowledge that some of the recommendations presented in this section may have already been implemented or are in the process of being implemented. In this case, we highlight the importance of continuing or strengthening certain actions and programs for these actors.
Political socialization and democratic education
The ability to exercise one's democratic right to vote and to be a candidate is not something that develops overnight when one turns 18. The process of preparing citizens to vote in elections starts long before one becomes eligible to vote and is progressive and continuous over many years.
Age is not a barrier to learning about democracy. While secondary school students are closer to voting age and likely have developed greater cognitive ability to understand the electoral process, young children can be also be interested in elections and understand complex topics when age-appropriate information is provided to them. And elementary school students are often more enthusiastic about school activities and programs than high school students.
Recommendations for Elections Canada:
- In general, continue to invest resources to develop and disseminate education programs on voting, elections and becoming a candidate, and to implement mock elections such as Student Vote.
- Invest more resources in the development of educational resources in elementary schools. Consider offering more programs about voting and the electoral process (like Student Vote) in elementary schools.
- Continue to develop resources for civics courses and experiential activities to maximize the integration of new knowledge, as is done through current civic education resources.
- Continue to reinforce advertising about educational resources on a continuous basis and to a variety of educational institutions and youth groups:
- These resources can be advertised through different channels: official communication through schools or teachers' professional associations, but also on social media and through teacher groups.
- Educational resources and voting activities can also be useful outside of election periods. Elections Canada could offer material for voting activities that can be adapted to different situations: for example, allowing students to vote for their choice of a reward activity at school, or members of a youth community group to vote on the end-of-year special activity or the dessert for a communal meal.
- Consider developing online voting games or apps for educational purposes:
- Youth now spend a lot of their time using technological devices for leisure activities and to interact with friends (i.e. video games, online games and apps). Schools are also using more online resources, as teachers recognize that the new generation of students are used to this mode of interacting with informational content. To keep its resources relevant and appealing to young Canadians, Elections Canada could consider developing new online educational resources (such as a voting game) and/or converting current educational resources to an online app or interactive web platform.
Additional recommendations for other societal actors and groups working with and for youth:
- Promote discussions about politics and contemporary issues (like the program Democracy Talks), as they have the potential to generate political interest and engagement with the electoral process.
- Parents should not be hesitant about introducing their children to democracy or politics. Children are often more aware of their community and contemporary issues than we may realize, and they can be easily interested in societal issues.
- Schools should make governing institutions and contemporary issues a regular class topic.
- Schools should promote civics courses or modules dedicated to democratic engagement to encourage engagement with electoral democracy.
- Parents and teachers should be open to discussions initiated by children and students.
- The media can also engage with children on elections and contemporary issues by developing specific sections or special issues to present and explain Canadian democracy, Canadian institutions, the electoral process and voting.
- Promote learning about politics from a young age, as it may increase an individual's sense of agency when it comes to voting and finding information about elections.
- Parents, teachers, youth groups and media can demonstrate different ways to find information about elections and voting, and make sure they consult accurate and verified sources. Developing the skills to be an engaged citizen will prepare young people for the rest of their lives.
- Use interactive and experiential activities about voting and the electoral process.
- Voting activities in schools or public spaces (such as Vote PopUp) are a good way for young citizens (and older ones) to learn how to vote.
- Voting activities can also be organized outside of election periods; for example, allowing students to vote on their choice of a reward activity at school, or allowing members of a community group to vote on the dessert for a communal meal.
- Encouraging youth to take part in voting activities can help them practice electoral democracy and increase their perception of voting as easy.
- In schools, teachers should be prepared to discuss contemporary issues that are important to youth, to foster their interest and engagement in public affairs.
- School is a central institution in young people's lives. It is one of the few places where most students, regardless of their socio-economic status, can be reached. Schools should expose children and adolescents to discussions about democracy or voting, as not all youth will have such discussions at home.
- Schools can capitalize on youth's interest in certain issues to initiate discussions on these issues, eventually broadening discussions to electoral democracy and voting.
- During elections, schools can give assignments that ask students to research political issues they care about. Teaching students research skills, especially how to compare and assess different sources of information, can help youth engage with electoral democracy.
- Groups and youth organizations can develop leadership programs for youth.
- Organizations can provide youth with the resources and support to learn to develop their own ideas and become leaders in their community (e.g. at school, in their municipality, or in their region). This can be good preparation for youth to someday become candidates in an election.
Disseminating information and communication strategies
Each new generation is socialized in a different media and technological environment, and develops different preferences and information consumption habits. Currently, youth are more likely to consume and trust information online, especially via social media. Elections Canada maintains a network of youth organizations through its Inspire Democracy program and leverages the existing networks of these organizations to better reach youth.
Recommendations for Elections Canada:
- Continue to ensure that the information disseminated is formatted in a simple, direct, and interactive way–especially what is posted on social media–to capture the attention of younger generations.
- Continue to collaborate with or hire youth to work with Elections Canada on content and communication strategies:
- Consider hiring (temporarily or permanently) youth of different ages to work on communication materials and strategies, as they are more aware of emerging and popular social networking platforms, and also because they know and master the codes of content development on these platforms.
- Given that youth have more trust in non-institutional content, Elections Canada could additionally develop an ambassador program and work with influencers and micro-influencers who will reuse content and information in their own posts. Youth respond best to outreach and communication from their peers.
- Continue to pair online information strategies with live events:
- Online outreach increases the audience, but events remain an important messaging tool and form of engagement for all ages. Ultimately, face-to-face contact is still more engaging than online contacts. Elections Canada could pair an online information campaign with on-campus events, for example.
Recommendations for other societal actors and groups working with and for youth:
- Improve messaging about issues that interest youth: for example, debates on a single issue, using online information.
- Aim to engage youth in democracy and electoral politics by increasing their presence on social media platforms. Develop engaging content about the organization's work and key issues for youth.
- Consider developing and using interactive "issue trackers" related to campaign promises or election content that will be relevant between elections for citizens to engage with. Young citizens prefer dynamic and direct interaction with issues. The fact that youth appear to be less cynical towards politics provides an encouraging baseline for such efforts.
Access to the electoral process
To ensure that citizens can exercise their democratic right to vote, it is important that they be registered. Pre-registration of youth aged 14–17 offers an opportunity to ensure that these citizens will be registered to vote when they turn 18. It would also familiarize them with the electoral process, as would focusing on more opportunities for young electors to work in an election.
Recommendations for Elections Canada:
- Continue to provide voter registration information prior to elections:
- To better reach youth, continue to disseminate information at secondary and post-secondary institutions with many new voters or soon-to-be-voters. Information dissemination approaches will understandably differ considerably for eligible electors and pre-electors.
- Continue and increase the distribution of this information online, notably on social media.
- Along with the recent introduction of the Register of Future Electors, implement online registration programs for youth:
- Consider using online forms that are accessible from tablets and smartphones (in addition to computers) to reach more youth, similar to the current Online Voter Registration for electors.
- Consider that registration programs provide an opportunity to inform youth about elections and related programs.
- Advertise educational materials and resources to teachers and school principals. Registration programs for pre-electors that are advertised or partly implemented through schools present another concrete opportunity for teachers to discuss voting and elections.
- Focus on recruiting young electors to staff polling stations:
- Young people working at polling stations will develop greater insight into the electoral process and see how voting takes place, information they can share with their friends.
- Continue to advertise such jobs on social media, but also through education institutions and youth centres.
- Work experience could be seen as a civil service that could provide credit for school programs and/or some kind of certification.
Other initiatives promoting engagement in Canadian democracy
This section is more in line with the work done by different societal actors and groups, but also individual citizens working on civic engagement outside of federal elections. As mentioned in the introduction of this section, the work of different societal actors, in different contexts, can reinforce the capacity of citizens to exercise their voting rights and engage with the electoral process.
- Political parties, candidates and political groups should reach out to youth more, especially before an election. Political parties and candidates have an important role to play in democracies: to disseminate information about the election and mobilize citizens to vote, especially newly eligible voters who have less experience with the electoral process.
- Citizen groups and municipalities can organize referenda or public consultations on policies salient to citizens, so they can engage with and practice electoral democracy on issues important to them.
- Ensure that information on new initiatives surrounding elections or voting are publicized clearly on various social media platforms and websites, in addition to traditional paper-based communication.
- Groups can highlight the work of young Members of Parliament or Members of Legislative Assemblies to demonstrate how youth can engage with democracy.
- If activities and programs are currently aimed at adults only, consider adding concurrent sessions for young children. This will provide parents with somewhere to bring their child during an information session (for example) and help foster democratic engagement from a young age.
- Also, consider developing democratic activities that involve all members of a family, regardless of age.
- Better explain political decisions to youth. Since they are less knowledgeable and feel less competent about politics, extra attention is needed when explaining political decisions and processes in order to foster comprehension among youth about democratic work. The fact that Gen Z is less cynical towards politics should make this task easier.
- People should talk to their children, friends and family about voting and the importance of electoral participation in general.
- Citizens, especially youth, pay a lot of attention to what their peers tell them.
- People should have respectful discussions about politics, even when they disagree on ideas. Acknowledging the importance of democratic engagement is paramount.
- Groups, and citizens in general, should recognize that young citizens can also inform those older than themselves about the importance of voting or about contemporary issues.
- Encouraging engagement works in both directions. Older citizens should remain open to opportunities to learn from younger citizens.
- Groups aiming to raise awareness of electoral participation or important societal and political issues should think about the power of youth when developing their strategies, as young citizens can potentially be strong advocates for democracy.