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

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 (Kaplan 2020; Montigny and Cardinal 2019), and the few published studies mostly examine American youth (Dimock 2019; Parker, Graf and Igielnik 2019; Igielnik and Parker 2020). Thus, more research is needed to learn about Generation Z, notably in Canada, and particularly as it relates to their political engagement and participation, including electoral participation.

In this context, we undertook a research project on generations and the impacts of generational change on the political dynamics in Canada. We specifically looked at two groups within Generation Z (aged 16– 17 and 18–22) and how they compared with older generations. This research is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. As part of this research, we conducted a survey of Canadians after the 2019 federal general election, related to their political engagement and voter participation.

As part of its mandate, Elections Canada commissioned this report to examine the types and levels of knowledge, experience, perceptions, opinions and attitudes of Canadians aged 16 to 17 in relation to electoral matters and how they compare with older age groups in Canada. Electoral matters of interest to Elections Canada included civic education, registration of youth, communications services, innovation, outreach and stakeholder engagement, election administrator recruitment, and digital and elector information services.

Based on our Canadian survey, fielded just after the 2019 federal election, this report offers a perspective on Generation Z, also referred to by some as the "iGeneration" (Dimock 2019; Austin, Clark and Sigmar 2018; Fenton 2020; Linnes and Metcalf 2017), in comparison with members of different generations. These include Millennials (aged 23 to 34) as well as Generation X and Baby Boomers (both comprising those aged over 35). By comparing these groups, we assess whether Generation Z is distinct in terms of beliefs, values, engagement and participation, or if it resembles older generations of Canadians.

This report also looks at two groups of Generation Z: those who were eligible to vote for the first time in 2019–young adults aged 18 to 22–and those who will soon be eligible to vote, youth aged 16 and 17. While these two groups of youth are still in their formative years and their political orientations may evolve, they may nonetheless display distinctive, long-lasting characteristics that are representative of the context in which they grew up. Members of Generation Z experienced the financial crisis of 2008 (even if indirectly through their parents' financial difficulties); they faced the rise of the platform economy; they were the first to grow up with mobile technologies; and they were raised in a world increasingly accepting of the LGBTQ2 community (Reinikainen, Kari and Luoma-aho 2020). All of these events and societal experiences may be key to shaping Gen Z's worldview and relationship to politics. Getting to know these two groups of Generation Z and their characteristics may help us envision the types of citizens and the views that will be part of Canadian society and politics in the coming years and decades.

Better knowledge about the difference or resemblance between younger and older generations, and within Generation Z, can help everyone involved with the political engagement and participation of youth to tailor their programs and information to the needs and preferences of contemporary youth, thereby increasing their potential effectiveness.

The objective of this report is mainly descriptive: We present and describe some of the attitudinal orientations and patterns of Generation Z's political participation and compare them with those of older age groups. We hypothesize about why certain differences or similarities between generational groups are observed, based on the literature on generational replacement and the life cycle approach. Ascertaining the differences between generations would require longitudinal data (with surveys following members of the different generations over several years). In the absence of such data, we must remain cautious about the interpretation of differences or similarities between age groups and their implications for Canadian society.

First, we present a section on the social and political orientations of Generation Z (or Gen Z), starting with observations about their levels of trust in people and their attitudes towards materialism. We continue with a presentation of Gen Z's political attitudes, including their levels of trust toward various institutions, political cynicism, satisfaction with democracy, how they envision decision-making in a democracy and their partisan identity.

In the second section, we focus on Gen Z's political engagement. We present both descriptive information and some explanatory models of their involvement with politics, the political resources they have, the influence of different socialization agents in their lives, and how they consume news.

The third section presents descriptive information and some explanatory models about how youth engage with the electoral process, as well as the forms of civic and political behaviours they engage with.

We conclude with a summary of the results and discussion, and close with a set of recommendations for Elections Canada and for public institutions, such as political parties, schools, and civil society organizations who work on civic and voter engagement, especially those who work with and for youth.