'Stupid, lazy millennials' no more

Anyone who thinks millennials don't care about the future of their country is officially out of touch - including reporters

There has been an article floating around on #cdnpoli Twitter about the Liberal party of Canada winning the 2015 election because of young voters.

The thesis of the Huffington Post article comes from a study by Abacus Data, commissioned by the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, which suggests voter turnout amoung young Canadians increased by about 12 points from the 2011 election. The report concludes “it’s time to pay attention to young Canadians”. Young Canadians, which includes millennials (those born between 1980 and 2000), should no longer be written off as lazy or apathetic and should be regarded as a serious and powerful voting bloc in the next election. Failure to do so could be political suicide.

While the Abacus report is great work, the analysis by the Huffington Post and Althia Raj is irritatingly similar to the rhetoric on millennials the study itself proves wrong.

At first glance, this article may seem harmless. In fact, many of my millennial Liberal friends shared it celebrating the Liberal majority. But there’s a lot here worth looking at which is problematic.

It is ironic that this piece implies the very opposite of what the polling it is reporting on concludes: that millennials are lazy. And, because of this, it is also (ironically) lazy reporting.

It is lazy because it makes blanket statements about what is the largest cohort of Canadians and soon to be the majority of the Canadian work force (took that right from the Abacus report) without any research to back it up. It is also lazy because it is clear that there was no fact-checking done on some of the points Raj uses to support her claim that the content contributed in a meaningful way to the Liberal win:

...Trudeau's team designed a campaign titled #matters that focused solely on young people's issues. A microsite, built by Pitfield's team of 20-somethings, included compelling digital videos featuring real people, some of which went viral and helped the Liberals spread their message beyond the youth demographic to their parents, teachers and siblings.

Let’s take a look at the views on these videos, shall we? As of the time this article was written:

This one has 27,000 views since October:

This one has 1,640 views since October:

This one has 4,512 views since October:

This one has 997 views since October:

This one has 9,974 views since October:

We may not be able to agree on everything, but I think we can all agree that 27,000 views (since October 2015) does not constitute “viral”. I even checked to make sure I was right.

I have a hunch none of these went viral because millennials saw through them (they are pretty transparent) as pieces of political advertisement, and - because millennials vote on substantial issues, according to actual facts and data from Abacus - largely ignored them.

And then, there’s this:

"The GIF on the party website includes only the first part of that quote, but it is one of several pieces of content the Liberals used last fall to connect with and encourage young voters to cast a ballot.

"Six months after the last election campaign, the impact of the Liberals' outreach to 18- and 24-year-olds — a fully developed media campaign that addressed young Canadians on issues such as marijuana legalization, youth jobs, the environment, affordable post-secondary education and the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning and two-spirited people, otherwise known as LGBTQ2 rights — is getting more attention.

"A new survey out Tuesday from Abacus Data suggests young Canadians were critical to the Liberal party's majority victory on Oct. 19."

Here’s what bothers me about this.

Raj has implied in this excerpt that “content” like the GIFs used on the party website won over young Canadian voters in October of 2015. Not only is this insulting to young people, who have shown that they are anything but politically illiterate, but it’s insulting to the campaign the Liberals ran.

Let’s get one thing clear. The 2015 election was won because of a well-organized group of thousands of volunteers and staff who did many things (including putting things on the Internet). It was won because people felt it was time for a change. It was won because young people took the future of their country very seriously. It was won because they took one look at Stephen Harper and Thomas Mulcair and thought to themselves, “no fucking way”.

Don’t believe for a second that young people looked at the GIFs on that webpage and said “YES! THAT’S my next PM”.

To imply that GIFs on the Internet dictated the choice of young voters, and thus the outcome of the election, is to ignore and negate the impact of so many volunteers and staff who knocked doors, made phone calls, stuffed envelopes, organized rallies, stayed up late and got up early to be on conference calls, sat in for the end of the day briefings, talked to their friends and family about why they should vote, and put in hundreds of hours of endless other work that has to be done in order to win a campaign.

It also shows that Raj didn’t either read or simply didn’t care about the full Abacus report, which states clearly that young people are concerned about and voted on the issues:

"Overall, a majority of young Canadians emphasized the creation of better job opportunities for young people (63%), making college and university more accessible and affordable (60%), growing the economy (55%), improving Canada’s health care system (54%), and making housing more affordable (51%) as their top five issues."

So we have here some facts and data which show that young people helped the Liberals get a majority because they are not lazy and politically illiterate and disengaged, and you chose to write an article about the Internet and GIFs?

This ageism will continue to plague millennials forever if we don’t speak up against it.

If Raj had written and article about how women won Trudeau the election because he was the best looking candidate, people would be furious, right? Because she would have no proof of that and it would imply that women voted on Trudeau’s looks and not on his substance.

Not only is there no research to back up that the Liberal digital content and GIFs were what won them the election, it also implies that we are a bunch of idiots that allow five second (tbh hilarious) looping videos dictate the way we vote.

This is not to say that there isn’t an important space for digital strategy or even GIFs on political campaigns. Full disclosure: I was one of those “20 somethings” on the Liberal Party digital team. I believe that it’s important - the Internet is where we (millennials, young people, middle-aged people, Canadians) go to find information about party platforms and assess which party is best suited to run our country next. I also don’t think the microsite was bad digital strategy. But I do believe campaigns are still won largely on the ground - at the town hall meetings, on the doorstep, and during the barbeques - and not on the Internet.

It’s not Althia Raj or the Huffington Post’s fault. They are just falling into the same old rhetoric about millennials being video-nodding-zombies without even thinking about it. But if the Abacus poll tells us anything, it’s to not believe what you think you know about millennials.

Thanks for reading! I’d love to know - did you find this helpful? Did you find it annoying? Did you get to the end and ask yourself, “wtf did I read this”? Please let me know. I’m always trying to improve my writing.

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