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Executive SummaryGeneration Z: Portrait of a New Generation of Young Canadians and How They Compare to Older Canadians

This report was commissioned by Elections Canada to examine the types and levels of knowledge, experiences, perceptions, opinions and attitudes of Canadians aged 16 and 17 in relation to electoral matters, and how they compare with older age groups in Canada.

Our report offers a portrait of a new generation of young Canadians born after 1997: Generation Z (or Gen Z). We focus on the social and political orientations of members of Generation Z who were eligible to vote for the first time in 2019 (youth aged 18 to 22) and those who will soon be of voting age (those aged 16 and 17). While looking at Generation Z on its own is interesting, comparisons of their positions, values and behaviours with those of older Canadians–members of the Millennial, Generation X and Baby Boomer generations&msah;are particularly informative. Today's youth will grow older, occupy a more important place in society, and ultimately replace older cohorts of Canadians. So knowing how much the members of Generation Z are similar to or different from previous cohorts of Canadians can inform a variety of actors, including social, political and institutional actors, about how they need to pursue their work with Canadian youth and with citizens more broadly in the years to come, so that they are politically engaged and participate in the electoral process.

In 2019, a new generation of Canadians became enfranchised: Generation Z. Members of this generation–those born after 1997–were eligible to vote for the first time during the 2019 federal election. As this new generation is bound to occupy a more prominent place in Canadian society and politics in the coming years, and as more members of Generation Z become eligible to vote throughout the next decade, we may wonder: Who are Generation Z's members? What do they believe in? How do they get involved in society? And how do these youth compare with older Canadians?

As Generation Z is just coming of age, studies on this generation and its characteristics are still scarce, and the few published studies mostly examine American youth. More research is needed to learn about Generation Z, notably in Canada. Such research would be especially useful for Elections Canada, to inform evidence-based decision-making about the administration and development of civic education programs, outreach initiatives, pre-registration of youth, and information campaigns. It could help Elections Canada tailor their programs and information to the needs and preferences of contemporary youth, thereby increasing their potential effectiveness. This report aims to offer a portrait of Generation Z in Canada, also referred to by some as the "iGeneration."

Survey and data

To provide an in-depth portrait of Generation Z's political attitudes and behaviours and compare them with those of older generations of Canadian voters, we conducted an opinion survey during the weeks following the 2019 federal election, which took place on October 21.

  • The survey was completed online between November 13, 2019, and January 16, 2020, via the Qualtrics platform.
  • The total number of survey respondents was 4,287, including an oversampling of youth aged 16 to 19.

In our analysis, we divide the survey's sample into four groups (or cohorts):

  1. Underage Gen Z: respondents born in 2002 and 2003 (16 or 17 years old at the time of the survey, N=500). They were not eligible to vote in the 2019 federal election.
  2. Adult Gen Z: respondents born between 1997 and 2001 (18–22 years old at the time of the survey, N=610). They were eligible to vote in the 2019 federal election.
  3. Millennials: respondents born between 1985 and 1996 (23–34 years old at the time of the survey, N=591).
  4. Generation X and Baby Boomers: individuals born before 1985 (aged 35 and older at the time of the survey, N=2,586).

Overview of findings

Overall, Generation Z are mostly distinct from Generation X and the Baby Boomers, but share some orientations with Millennials. Our research also indicates that Gen Z is not homogeneous. Various particularities of those aged 16–17 are shown in this research.

In terms of their socio-demographic background, Generation Z is more ethnoculturally diverse than previous generations, which explains in part why they are more open to diversity. In terms of values and social orientations, they are less materialist and a little less trusting of people in general.

When it comes to politics, members of Generation Z are quite distinct. They are more trusting of governments, less cynical about politics, and more positive towards Canadian democracy, while they identify less with political parties compared with older groups of Canadians, which could be partly related to their more limited experience with politics. The youngest Canadians are also less engaged with politics: They are less knowledgeable about politics, less politically interested, they follow the news less frequently, and they are less confident–as are Millennials–about their ability to understand politics.

Generation Z's news consumption patterns are also quite similar to those of Millennials. Compared with Gen Xers and Boomers, these two groups are more likely to consume news online (especially on social networks) and much less through print media or the radio. However, Gen Zers are distinct in that they tend to trust news published by professional journalists and news posted on social media equally, compared with all older groups of Canadians, who trust professional journalism more.

With regard to civic and political participation outside of elections, young Canadians are as active or more active overall than older Canadians, and in different ways. Younger Canadians tend to lead the way in the use of public transit and raising awareness in their social networks to fight climate change, and they are also more likely to share information about the environment online, as are Millennials. During the 2019 electoral campaign, Gen Zers and Millennials were also more likely to have used the Vote Compass to find information related to the election. Generation Z reported higher levels of engagement in their community through volunteering, donations, and political and environmental protests. Like Millennials, they were more likely to sign petitions, boycott or buycott products, and share political information online, and less likely to contact public officials.

But, as expected, and consistent with past research, older Canadians still turn out at higher rates in elections. Gen Zers were the least likely to turn out in the last election, although the underage Gen Zers who were 16 and 17 years old at the time of the election still display high intentions of voting. Several factors may help to explain the age differences in turnout, such as the fact that Millennials and Generation Z are less likely to believe that voting is a duty; they are less likely to perceive voting as easy; and they are less likely to be mobilized by political parties and candidates.

While we have proposed several hypotheses in this report to explain some of the differences or similarities found between the generational groups, these remain hypotheses only. In fact, panel data would be required to clearly identify which findings are due to cohort differences, to aging, or to period effects.