MD Blog


28 April 2016

'Millennials' in Germany

The empiric findings of the Millennial Dialogue report regarding Germany sheds light on distinctive separation between the private and the public realm in Germany. In this comment I want complement the survey data with some historical contexts regarding the said separation. I want to conclude this comment with a broader hypothesis of how the German view can be explained: I argue that this generation is coined by a pragmatic view on politics which is complemented by a broad knowledge of and interest in politics but also sidelined by the strong interest in individual development especially through education in contrast to a more social perspective. Policy proposals which want to find their support should hence take this attitude into account.[1]

The comment starts by looking at their societal context (demography/gender/migration), it moves on by highlighting their individual contexts (family life/education/job market) and it finishes by complementing these views through some snap shoots on their macro views regarding political and economic experiences. The comment concludes by suggesting a pragmatic view on policies which might be in the centre of this generation‘s concern and which might affect future German politics as well as the modes how to do so.

1. Societal context

Demography – Germans born after 1980 knew about the changing generational contract, ie. that their will be increasingly less people to secure the pensions through a redistribution mechanism which led to an increased responsibility to invest in private pension schemes. As children of the baby boomers (the generation of 1945 to 1970) the Millennials are in the situation to be confronted with a quite large cohort starting their retirement just now. People are therefore rather meant to rely on their own capacities to secure their well being for their pension age. A further outcome of this demographic asymmetry points to the Millennials’ democratic representations as they are rather a small fraction when it comes to electoral will formation even though – as the report shows – they are quite willing to vote.

Gender – The Millennial generation in turn is one of the first which actually live with an understanding of gender equality. Even though this does not mean that German society has already reached an adequate level of equality, children of Millennials‘ have parents who lived in patchwork families, where fathers might stay at home and where mothers are the main income providers. Millennials are confronted with policies which explicitly tackle traditional gender roles like same sex marriage, parental leave or gender quotas (see the figure on their believe in gender equality). Especially the daughters of the Millennials have or will have a higher probability to end up with a university entrance degree or a PhD than their sons. Education, as it has been shown in several figures also plays a central role in this new social reconfiguration.

Migration – Millennials in Germany are also represented by children or grandchildren of migrant labourers who came to Germany in the 1950s and 1960s. The efforts of this so called third generation (i.e. that they are born and grown up in Germany) challenged the traditional school system as it rather contributed to segmentation than integration. After reunification in 1990, Millennials from eastern Germany migrated to the western part in order to find jobs and apprenticeships in a rather unknown social environment. This constellation might have also contributed to the focus on developing his or her own carrier and family life in contrast to focus so much on their societal engagement as it has been found in the Millennials’ survey.

2. Individual context

Family life – Millennials’ family experiences differ in two respects from previous and following generations. On the one hand side and as children, they grew up in family context where they are mostly considered as planed children but they are also the first who lived in patchwork contexts not as stigmatised as it had been before. On the other hand and as parents themselves, Millennials are quite positive about having their own families and even planning to have rather more children than previous generations. They main difference in both aspects might be the relative position of fathers and mothers which millennials experienced throughout their own formation and how the experience or want to experience it with regard to their own children. A public spending focus on healthcare, education and the environment (the three top priorities for Germans Millennials according to the survey) seems to back the wish to have a promising and constructive few into their and their children’s future.

Education – Specifically in Germany Millennials might have been the last generation who experienced a functioning tripartite school system whereafter the lowest level (i.e. Hauptschule) lost much of its reputation as a good qualification for vocational education. In terms of higher education, Millennials are the first generation which experienced the European wide introduction of a new University system which changed the German university system and diplomas quite radical. This goes along with an increased mobility within Germany but also European wide or globally – them being the first ERASMUS generation fully experiencing free movement of persons in Europe and broadly able to speak english. As also the survey indicated quite clearly, the importance for German Millennials to qualify themselves as well as their children (see government priorities) might has been even fostered by these events.

Job market – The transition into the job market for German Millennials is just to be concluded. Much of their formation time was coined by increasing unemployment (after the .com bubble), especially for the eastern and northern regions. This tendency was only turned around after 2005 often associated with the reforms of the social security system (Hartz 4) which made the (baby boomers’) middle class feel unease about their economic outlook (maybe for the very first time in such a fundamental fashion). In contrast to this, most of the Millennials seem to have secured their careers and do rather focus on their families and private concerns than concentrating to much on their carriers or political engagement. This development might, on the one hand, address the low expectation regarding the public sector to create jobs (compared to Poland and Italy, figure 15) but also what kind of jobs they want to full fill (figure 20).

Macro views

Economics – The Millennials experienced two economic crises with a global dimension. This was on the one hand side what had culminated in the crash of the internet bubble in early 2000 (which rather affected the parents of the Millennials trusting the first time in capital markets, buying Telekom shares and loosing much of their origin investment) and on the other the recent financial crisis with its often implied analogy to the recession in the 1930s (which in Germany resonates with a fragile political system). Indeed both crisis did not immediately affect this generation, e.g trough loosing their jobs but especially the latter showed vividly how economic crises is able to disrupt political systems. As especially the latter crisis did affect this generation rather not in their immediate context might be one reason why effective crisis management associated mostly in the survey with the CDU is very much appreciated. This might have also fostered the quite surprising survey result of how the German Millennials think of the extent to which politicians deliver on their associated tasks particularly compared tot he other countries‘ Millennials.

Politics – German Millennials know more or less three chancellors from their own experience – Kohl, Schröder and Merkel. Each had or has a very specific attitude in leading the German political system. Whereas Kohl had a quite patriarchal understanding of power and whereas Schröder was very focused on his own capacities it might be the attitude of Merkel who best reflects the pragmatic (even apolitical) approach to politics which might be shared by a rather bigger part of the Millennials. This might also be very much in contrast to other European attitudes (see e.g. figure 6 and 7) but it might explain why the more general political sphere in Germany is not that much polarised than as it might seem in other countries.

A pragmatic view

“I do not think that is too much political change” – This statement regarding the future of Germany presented in the survey seems to be quite appropriate to combine the different parts above. German Millennials are interested in politics and how policies affect the future of their lives but they also feel quite confident of the resilient and functioning quality of their political system. Politics seem to be able (from their perspective) to manufacture the basic conditions for a stable or even better future to come.

From my perspective, German Millennials learned a lot by the experiences of others. They learned from the conflicts between and within their preceding and parental generation. They saw how a bad economic environment and unemployment affected older members of their families; they saw how war generated migration; they saw catastrophes like 9/11 and how it changed the security system of the world; they grew up within a globalising world and how it brought global inequality to light; they experienced the highest level of European integration as well as how the Eurocrisis unleashed in southern Europe. German millennials it seem know a lot by learning and maybe less through their own experience. This might be one more reason why they so strongly believe in pragmatics and the possibility to fix things when they had once been turned out badly before.

This pragmatic view on politics makes them in general less responsive to political ideology or matters of principle but they might be alerted when it comes to explanations of how to solve problems even if it might be a long or hard way to go. Hence a good political strategy might focus on content rather on form in order to get German Millennial‘s to vote for political ideas, i.e. to provide narratives with well thought solutions for concrete problems they experience in their lives or learn from the experience of others.


[1] The term Millennials is to name a generation close to the end of a millennium. This rather formal description shades to a certain extent the differences of their origin. Millennials in Germany compared to Millennials in the US for example (where the generation got its name being the largest generation ever experienced) are in several ways quite different. In this comment I cannot focus on their difference but I want to highlight a few numbers regarding generation of this period (i.e. born between 1980 and 2000) in Germany. Indeed for Germany the period to be studied might be different when looking at the fertility rate. It was around the year 1970 when it went down from 2.5 to 1,5 children per women with another step decline after reunification in 1990 to 1.3 and then after 1995 constant at 1.4 until today. (For comparison: Germany in 1970: 2.0; 1990: 1.45; and 2010: 1.39 as well as Poland in 1970: 2.26; 1990: 2.06; and 2010: 1.38 as well as Italy in 1970: 2.38; 1990: 1.33; and 2010: 1.41.). Looking at other social event the generational divide might like be placed around the year 1990 when a variety of changes influenced the socio-political context not only in Germany but all over Europe.

Posted By: Benjamin Wilhelm, Former Member FEPS YAN

Category: Politics
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28 April 2016

Mobilizing Millennials: The crisis of parties and beyond

The idea that parties do suffer from a fatal illness called “bureaucratization” and that they will die from suffocation due to a lack of democratic oxygen supplemented by a hypertrophy of internal procedures is certainly not new.

At the very beginning of the last century, the Weberian approach of modern politics contributed to the formulation of the paradox still defining the nowadays issue of political parties. On one hand, these organizations are, in Max Weber’s own words, the “children of democracy” and have proved themselves indispensable to the holding of elections despite the fact they can also accommodate authoritarian or totalitarian regimes. On the other hand, they exemplify the oligarchic trends of institutions driven by a quest for efficiency and performance. The basic tenets of this cruel and realistic diagnostic were but forwards by Weber’s disciple, Roberto Michels, as soon as before World War I, in a famous book dedicated to the rise of an organized social-democratic movement in Europe.

During the last 15 years, Western parties, and especially parties belonging to the European social-democrat family, have suffered from a renewal of suspicion and criticism aiming not only at their bureaucratizing trends but mainly at their decline as political performers capable of translating citizens’ aspirations into viable political claims and governmental decisions.

Among political scientists, the late Peter Mair was probably the most provocative analyst of this alleged decline.

While in previous texts co-written with Richard Katz, Peter Mair had linked the disappearance of competitive mass parties with their functional success as organizations and consequent mutation into quasi-governmental agencies inside stabilized democracies, he took a much more pessimistic direction in his last works.

When using the metaphor of cartels, Mair and Katz had meant that parties could be understood as political enterprises that had succeeding in dominating and organizing a once competitive market. They had become the national pillars of the quite consensual and very “consociational” European democracies of the 1970s and 1980s.

Mair’s brilliant and posthumous book entitled “Ruling the Void: The Hollowing of Western Democracy” tells us another story about a new century in which “the age of party democracy has passed” and politics is dying. According to Mair’s last analysis of the state of art of democracy in Europe, the weakening of national institutions by globalization has put a slow but potentially fatal blow to modern politics since the 1980s. The great threat to traditional parties is not a brutal disappearance shaped into “pasokization”. This threat takes three lethal forms that a slow erosion of their scores conceals: growing abstention, partisan disaffiliation and electoral volatility. According to this, parties would have become vessels without sailors, maps and directions on an unknown ocean.

To a certain extent, many results of the FEPS survey could be read as a validation of Mair’s pessimism. The thesis of “the hollowing of western democracy” is primarily supported by two undeniable facts: the Millennials take much less interest in politics than their elders do and they do not trust political parties very much.

However, despite this gloomy prospect, there is some light and hope for traditional parties in the survey.

The data showing that the Millennials do not support the populist agenda are particularly encouraging for idealists and humanists. Neither Europhobia nor xenophobia characterizes the dominant political attitude of a new generation of citizens.

Also encouraging, at least for technocrats, are the answers provided according to which, despite a lack of trust, young voters tend to retain their support for traditional parties because of technical experience in governmental matters.

And finally, Millennials’ confession that their voting behavior remains shaped by the influence of family background might delight cynical strategists.

These three rays of light could certainly please a wide range of politicians as they melt the picture of the imminence of a populist wave capable of sweeping well-established institutions. The likelihood of a “back to the 1930’s” scenario fueled by the political adventurism of a despaired generation is far from being confirmed by today’s survey.

However, the sweetness of the sun of an early spring should not lull anyone and two points must be highlighted.

First, the weight of family influence will not last: the results of simple actuarial calculations will not remain favourable to parties born in the 19th century and hegemonic in the post-war decades.

Second, as voting is not compulsory in most countries and as young citizens are not attracted to the polls, the impact of the Millennials’ political moderation could prove unable to counterbalance a rise in right or left-wing radicalism among older groups feeling threatened by any change induced by globalization.

In other words, if Millennials do not represent a threat for traditional parties or democracies, it would prove dangerous to neglect them and to forget to mobilize them. And, from this point of view, two lessons of the survey are bitter but must be swallowed.

The first lesson is that, despite numerous attempts to rejuvenate their image, traditional parties are described in terms that could be borrowed from a Cohen movie, as organizations “for old men”, deaf to the needs and aspirations of younger people.

The second lesson is tougher because it does call for much more imagination and boldness than programmatic revisionism or policy reviews: Millennials demand better representation through parties but are not ready to devote much time to them. What the survey brings to light is that if Mair has been correct in diagnosing a party crisis in Europe, he might have confused a decrease of desire for politics and a lack of political desire. The answers provided by the Millennials do not show a democratic despair supplemented by an interest for authoritarian remedies or a will of individualist withdrawal from politics. Young people want to reconnect with politics but without spending their life on the agora or trusting blindly permanent delegates: nor “participative democracy”, nor a “plebiscitary regime” suits their needs. The urge for new procedures reconnecting citizen and political bodies is well illustrated by the answers related to the appreciation of Beppe Grillo’s party: it is evident that political support for the program is weaker than the attraction for its informal digital structure. Other answers express at the same time a readiness to get together and distaste for traditional militancy.

Contrary to Mair’s last pessimistic views, parties could still have a future as political vehicles but it is quite obvious, according to the survey, that they won’t survive as entrenched camps led by senior officers. The point is not anymore to optimize their electoral results through one-time tactics but to boost their appeal thanks to a global strategy and the invention of a new corporate model. In order to do so, the first step is certainly to come back as social movements through which people will want to gather again. This is by the way less a great discovery than a reminder: social democracy was never as strong as when it was a network of political and socio-economic associations. Today, the clock is ticking.

Posted By: Christophe Sente, Member of FEPS Scientific Council

Category: Politics
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28 April 2016

Presentation of the Millennial Dialogue report

The Foundation for European Progressive Studies and the Center for American Progress have launched a transatlantic initiative known as the “Millennial Dialogue”to engage with and better understand the priorities and values narrative of those aged between 15 and 34. With the first phase complete, on 24th February, FEPS presented the early findings to the policymaking public in Brussels. This was followed by commentary from key political players and a questions and answers session with the press and the Brussels public.

Discussion with Brando Benifei, MEP and Vice-Chair of the Parliamentary Intergroup on Youth Affairs (Italy); Anne Johnson, Executive Director, Generation Progress (US); and David Lewis, Founder and CEO, Audiencenet (UK).

As established parties falter when attracting younger voters, some assume that there is a lack of interest in politics among young people. However, there is evidence of growing activism in non-party political movements and other civil society organisations. As such, there is a gap in the broader understanding of this demographic among political practitioners and a need to re-engage.

Certain recent campaigns, such as that of President Obama in the USA have had some success; while other movements like the Indignados and the Occupy Movement have emerged as alternative points of political engagement. The Millennial Dialogue seeks to address these challenges and provide innovative approaches to engaging with young people.

This began with a large international survey on millennial values, using innovative and sophisticated methodologies to gain insights often absent from political discourse. This research aims to provide a basis for a comprehensive millennial policy agenda, one that interacts with young people rather than accepting their loss from the political process.

Some excerpts from the survey:

Interest in politics:

7% of Polish 15-17 year olds said they were interested in politics. 18% of Germans of the same age showed interest while none of the Italians did.

Influence of young people:

64% of young Germans think that most politicians largely ignore the views of younger people.

Gender and sexual politics:

75% of Polish millennials believe in the importance of equality in gender and sexual-orientation in society and feel that politicians have a duty to promote such equality.

Posted By: Ben Fowler

Category: Politics
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28 April 2016

How to break the wall of distrust towards politics?

Let’s start from the conclusions: If we will be able to break the wall of distrust towards politics, young people will likely consent with our political goals. In a deeply concerning scenario, this is the light at the end of the tunnel we were looking for.

In several countries, progressive forces face major challenges: the parties’ members average age is high and increasing, while they often fail to attract so called “Millennials”. Youth engagement is therefore a key political issue, and political elites have the duty to improve traditional parties’ capacity to attract and involve young people, adapting to changes.

The Millennial Dialogue project, created by FEPS in cooperation with the Centre for American Progress and Audiencenet, recently presented a Report on the comparative survey conducted on 3000 Millennials in Italy, Poland and Germany.

Similar initiatives are very much welcomed, as they constitute a precious tool to have an insight into those trends which are likely to become relevant in the future, and they help us to find new ways to include people by understanding their priorities.

According to the common sense, in Italy there’s a huge distrust of politics and politicians among the youngsters and a lack of will to engage in politics. Does the survey confirm this intuitive view? Partly, but it also reveals a far more complex picture.

These are the figures: 81% of respondents are not politically engaged, and 60% of them “feel their generation is less interested in politics than their parents’ or grandparents’ generation”. Moreover, politics is neither in the top career aspirations nor in the first places among youngsters’ interests. 81% of the Millennials feels the view of younger people is largely ignored by most politicians, while only 16% feels confident that they and their peers could make themselves heard.

In this discouraging context, we likely would be tempted to throw in the towel. However, the survey deepens the analysis and shows a more complex reality.

“Decisions made by politicians in Italy” are considered to be the 5th (out of 15) most important factor affecting the future quality of life, after the global and Italian economic situation, the new developments in technology and connected devices and the state of environment; in addition, 70% of Millennials would like to vote in the next elections. So, young people seem aware about the concrete impact of political decisions on their lives and on the future of their communities.

In this sense, distrust of youngsters is more related to politicians and “present” politics than to politics in general.

It is no coincidence that among asked youngsters honesty is perceived as the most appreciated and researched quality for a politician, along with “a stance against corruption”, intelligence, trustworthiness and ability to listen to others (and we have to admit that Partito Democratico has to fight for ameliorating his “perceived” results in the field, in comparison to Movimento 5 Stelle): among major reasons for not wanting to vote, lack of trust in politician appears to be the key factor for the final choice.

However, by listing the elements contributing to voting decision, young people implicitly suggest how they want to be encouraged to participate to political life. They want to see, also through traditional and new media, politicians who directly engage with them. They want to meet candidates, know their opinion in detail, be direct interlocutors for retailed information. In some ways, Millennials need nowadays to be approached in a more personal and direct way: party’s manifesto is insufficient.

The process of adapting traditional parties to those new trends will not be easy. We want engaged Millennials, not politics to become merely customized marketing; the balance will always be frail.

Yet still, and here I come to my conclusion, this challenge deserves to be accepted and welcomed.

Looking at the top priorities for public spending indicated by the youngsters who answered the survey, these are quite consistent with the program of a left-wing party: healthcare, job creation, education, fight against poverty, innovation and skills. Furthermore, the Millennials answered the key question of “What should politician work towards?” listing: ensuring equality opportunities for all (93%), ensuring the best possible future for young people (91%), improving and maintaining good educational facilities (90%), improving and maintaining good medical care (89%), investing in technology (87%).

If we will be able to break the wall of distrust towards politics, young people will likely consent with our political goals.

We cannot allow ourselves to waste such an opportunity.
We must make our political proposal clearly understandable, we must not fear direct contact with the Millennials and we must convince them their voice is loud enough to be heard.

Posted By: Brendo benifei Member of the European Parliament and Vice-Chair of the Parliamentary Intergroup for Youth Affairs

Category: Politics
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28 April 2016

Long live Politics! Technology & New media to the rescue?

Technology and new media, the very things that have contributed to a decline in youth political engagement, could potentially be used to kick-start a new era of open and accessible ‘everyday’ democracy that young people can relate to. Here are four strategies, based on insights from the Millennial Dialogue* project, to get more young people engaged in politics:

-  Be Radically Transparent

-  Trust The Wisdom Of Crowds

-  Visualise Manifestos (With Unambiguous Data)

-  Stop Getting Social Media Wrong


Be Radically Transparent

Of the millennials who said that they wouldn’t vote in an election tomorrow, a lack of trust (“I don’t trust politicians”) emerged as the top reason for not wanting to vote, applying to 45% of the sample overall (and 54% in Poland). The main reasons why politicians aren’t trusted, which were cited again and again in the qualitative research communities, are because they “don’t keep their promises”, they’re “corrupt” and they’re “only in it for themselves.”

During the ‘imagine that they were starting a new political party’ research activity, the young people taking part were asked to explain how they would let everyone know that their party is real and trustworthy. The overwhelming consensus was that actions speak louder than words.

The best ‘actions speak louder than words’ way to earn the trust of the electorate is, of course, to deliver on pre-election promises. Data from the Millennial Dialogue research shows that political parties who get a reputation for having broken pre-election promises will be severely punished at the next election. Of the UK millennials who voted in 2010, 24% voted for the Liberal Democrats. In the ensuing coalition government negotiations with the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats had to abandon their flagship free university tuition fees policy. The millennial generation ridiculed Nick Clegg’s infamous apology and they’ll soon be expressing their anger at ballot box. Of those who are planning to vote next month, just 7% said they would vote for the Liberal Democrats, a massive 17 percentage points down on 2010.

But what can political parties do to build trust when they’re not in government? It was suggested that candidates should “carry out some promises before even being elected, to try and show that they’re not empty or full of rubbish.” It was also argued that parties need strong leaders capable of dealing with bad behaviour by candidates/MPs severely and openly: “complaints would be made accessible publicly online… there should be a zero tolerance policy for any inappropriateness because a strong country is determined by a strong leadership.”

Continuing the ‘open party’ theme, another millennial thought that parties should “publish everything giving unrestricted access to party finances and minutes from EVERY meeting.” Developing that idea, I wonder if the Liberal Democrats could have reduced the backlash against them over tuition fees if they had been able to broadcast the 2010 post-election negotiations with the Conservatives on a live streaming app like Periscope or Meerkat?

Trust The Wisdom Of Crowds

Politics has failed to move with the times. In an era where online access is becoming increasingly commonplace around the world, young people are very much aware of how the internet has changed the way we work, communicate and relate with each other. Even banking, a slow moving and uncompetitive industry where security is paramount, welcomed online technologies back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, yet in 2015 only a handful of countries have introduced online voting. Not only do young people want to be able to vote online once every 4 or 5 years at the election (89% of Canadian millennials think that “secure online voting would encourage more young people to vote”), they want online technologies to kick-start a new era of open and accessible ‘everyday’ democracy.

It was argued in the UK research community that a new political organisation called The Pirate Party was “particularly trustworthy as their manifesto was crowd-soured by members of the public.” This idea to use the wisdom of the crowd to build trust in politics was also put forward by a German millennial describing what they would do if they were to start a new political party.

“I would open my party up, make it faster. Everyone should have the opportunity to contribute their opinion five minutes before the vote in Parliament, Skype or Twitter – this format really brings a lot of confidence with it, because if everyone has the opportunity to participate, they will really trust the politicians.”

The ‘crowd’ has been proven, across a broad range of disciplines, to be surprisinglyinsightful, accurate and creative. Attitudes towards Wikipedia, arguably one of the biggest crowd sourced projects, help to reveal the disconnect between the generations. While many‘Baby Boomers’ mourned the demise of Encyclopaedia Britannica and like to point outThe 15 Biggest Wikipedia Blunders, millennials know that while Wikipedia isn’t perfect, the model is as good as it gets.

Around the world, there are teams of young coders building software to bring politics in to the 21st century. DemocracyOS, for example, allows citizens to get informed, debate and vote on every single bill presented in Congress. The political elite may try to resist this kind of change – probably by claiming that their citizens are not educated enough to make key decisions – but if they continue to reject new technology then they risk becoming increasingly out of touch.

Visualise Manifestos (With Unambiguous Data)

When the millennials taking part in the research were asked how politics could engage their generation, one of the common themes is that politicians should stop using political jargon and make their communications easier to understand. As one student pointed out in the UK research community, “What average 18 year old is going to sit and read up to 6 different manifestos to see who would be better to vote for? I think they have better things to do!! I sat down to read one of them in 2010 and gave up on page 2 because I didn’t understand any of it.” This doesn’t, however, mean that politicians should dumb down their communications – millennials don’t want to be talked to like children or patronised, they just want a clear and informative message delivered in a more entertaining and enjoyable format.

Another theme running through the research community discussions is politicians’ use of statistics. As part of the UK research, the participants were asked to live-blog their thoughts as they watched the second TV Election Debate. Here are a few of the quotes that referenced the leaders’ usage of statistics:

8.10pm “Ed (Milliband) and Nicola (Sturgeon) mention the NHS and education as key priorities while also reducing other cuts… just wondering how all the books will balance?”

8.18pm: “I really like the Green’s use of solid statistics.”

Half an hour later, one of the UK millennials came up with an idea that was very well received by the other research participants.

8.46pm: “£100bn over what time frame? How about a new rule? Any party proposing a policy must express it as a proportion of annual government spending (£750bn).”

This rule, it was argued, would make it easier to see how the parties differ and which parties have or have not balanced their books. When politicians talk about a £8bn new policy, it’s often not clear what that means. Is it a one off investment over 5 years or an on-going annual expenditure? What impact does that new policy have on all of the other departments?

In the days after the debate, the most insightful research participants were invited to collaborate with researchers from AudienceNet and graphic designers from Data Design to develop their ideas and discuss how technology and new media could be used to turn 70+ page manifestos into something more entertaining, user-friendly and useful/informative (i.e. content that young people would want to share with their friends).

Building on the “express every policy as a proportion of annual government spending” rule, it was suggested that “when parties change pledges to counteract their rivals, it’s hard to keep up – it would be great to see everything put into one place.” When another participant mentioned the income tax pie chart letter sent out to UK taxpayers last year, this led to an idea for an interactive ‘budget visualisation’ website. The one page visualisation dashboard would show the total tax and spend projections with the tax data broken down to show the proportion obtained from each tax type (VAT, income tax etc) and the spending data split by each government department.

When someone pointed out that voters would want to know more than just the top-line total tax/spend proportions, it was proposed that the user would be able to click on a government department (e.g. education) to drill down to the next level of spending (schools, universities etc) and then to have the option to explore more content about the policies for each area. One of the more popular suggestions as to what that content should be was to create a series of animated videos setting out the party’s vision for the future. The participants agreed that the videos should use “accessible language”, “unambiguous data” and the “high-tech, high energy” visual presentation style used by the Swedish statistician Hans Rosling, whose animated video (about a relatively dry topic: life expectancy and income) – “200 Countries, 200 Years, 4 Minutes – The Joy of Stats” – has been viewed on YouTube more than 6 million times.

Stop Getting Social Media Wrong

Having heard about the importance of ‘Likes on Facebook’ and ‘Tweeting’, politicians are belatedly joining social media networks. Many of the millennials taking part in the research said that they weren’t ‘following’, ‘liking’, or ‘friends with’ any politicians. Of those who are connected to politicians, their take on how they currently use social media was mixed but generally quite negative. While it was acknowledged that “some of the more successful younger candidates are using social media well and can understand how to use it to its full benefit without appearing like a technophobe or trying too hard to fit it”, the consensus was that most politicians are getting social media wrong.

Millennials find it particularly galling when politicians employ someone else to handle their social media accounts on their behalf.

“Politicians could reach young people through social networks like Facebook using their own profiles and, if at all possible, through PERSONAL (I mean really personal and not from any employees) answers to people’s questions.”

At the other extreme, Gutiérrez Iglesias, the People’s Party mayor of a small town near Madrid called Brunete has been using Whatsapp in an attempt to connect with voters. As part of a “Call me or write to me on my phone!” campaign, he sent his mobile number out to the 10,000 constituents, checks messages at all hours of the day and apparently responds to most messages within minutes. While Whatsapp probably isn’t the best platform for politicians, especially those with larger constituencies, Iglesias’ willingness to listen and respond to his citizens should certainly be applauded. In each research community so far, millennials have repeatedly stressed that the key to successful social media communication is to see it very much as a two-way process, listening and interacting with the people, as opposed to just broadcasting at them as if they were a passive audience.

As one of the Canadian millennials pointed out, as well as using social media to listen and interact, politicians should also try to show a ‘human’ side by sharing things from their life outside of politics.

“I have my local MP as a ‘Facebook friend’. This has been effective marketing for him as it allows him to post about issues and he gets instant feedback. He posts pictures from events he attends which puts him in a positive light. Occasionally, he will also post about very selective personal events, which shows his ‘friends’ that he is a real guy, with a real family – making him more relatable.”

However, there is a balance to be struck here and there is a risk, especially for older politicians, of being seen as trying too hard.

“Politicians could better connect with young people by being open, honest, and by not actively TRYING to connect with them. When a middle aged man is trying hard to be seen as ‘cool’ by young people, it comes across as patronising. They should be themselves and talk honestly about how their party can best represent the needs of young people.”

Several millennials have mentioned Obama’s Reddit AMA as an example of how politicians should be using social media.

“Politicians can reach young people, especially through social media. In the US this is happening now with Reddit AMA (ask me anything). It is important to be in direct contact with young people and to give them the feeling that you are taking their opinions and concerns seriously.”

Hinting perhaps at how inter-connected the world is becoming, the millennials talking independently and unprompted about Obama’s Reddit AMA were from Germany (quoted above), Italy and Canada. The US phase of the research is due to start later this month. My next blog posts will cover electoral reform, personalities in politics and how millennials are describing their ‘ideal candidate.’

Posted By: Ben Fowler, Research Director AudienceNet

Category: Politics
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28 April 2016

The Gender gap in Political interest

Studies from Verba, Burns and Schlozman (1997) and Ingelhart (1981) have documented how women tend to express a lower level of interest in politics than men. Varying theories have been put forward in order to try and explain this trend, including a lack of both descriptive and substantive representation, gender gaps in issue preference and patriarchic political systems.  Evidence from the 15 countries surveyed so far for the Millennial Dialogue suggests that this trend is continuing amongst the next generations of women, where women have been less likely to say they were ‘very interested’ in politics in every single country.  With women in Western Europe attaining higher education levels than men and experiencing unprecedented levels of gender equality, why are they still falling behind men when it comes to political interest?

It is important to explore the causes of the gender gap in political interest, as it is a problem for a democracy if it is unable to engage all of its citizens. Such discrepancies lead to lower levels of representation of groups who do not engage with the system, undermining democracy both in descriptive and substantive terms. Although women are less interested in politics, they are just as likely as men to vote, but less likely to take part in party politics.

There are several theories as to why women express such low interest in politics compared to their male counterparts, one is that lower levels of descriptive representation of females in parliament causes women to lack interest. Data from the Millennial Dialogue confirms that descriptive representation could partly impact on levels of political interest. In Hungary just 3% of females said they were ‘very interested’ in politics, making them 63% less interested in politics than Hungarian males. This is the largest gender gap registered in the countries surveyed. Hungary also has the lowest level of female representation in parliament of the countries surveyed at 10%.

On the other hand the country with the lowest gender gap was Norway where males were “only” 21% more likely to be ‘very interested’ in politics than females. Norway has been a forerunner for the increase in women’s representation both in political arena and the private sector, setting quotas to increase female representation in parliament and boardrooms. At 40% Norway has the highest level female representation in parliament of the 15 countries surveyed to date. Evidence from Hungary and Norway points to a strong role for descriptive representation in decreasing the gender gap in political interest; however data from Germany and Turkey indicate that we must look beyond representation to find out how we can increase level of political interest amongst young women.

Germany has the second largest gender gap in political interest with males being more than twice as likely as women to say they were ‘very interested’ in politics. Yet, Germany has nearly as high a percentage of female representatives as Norway and like Norway also has a female head of state. In Turkey, on the other hand, just 15% of representatives in parliament were women as of December 2015, yet 18% of women said they were ‘very interested’ in politics and Turkey had one of the lowest gender gaps in political interest. Maybe looking at gender equality representation could help explain the gender gap in political interest?

Looking to Norway again, who have the lowest gender gap in political interest, substantive representation is also very high. Norway ranks number two on the World Bank’s Gender Gap Report, indicating a high level of gender equality in society. Yet, substantive representation in itself doesn’t seem to be able to explain the gender gap, as both France and Germany have relatively big gender gaps, but at the same time both rank within the top 15 in the World Bank’s Gender Gap Report. Turkey ranks number 130 in the World Bank report, yet has a much smaller gender gap in political interest than both France and Germany.

When neither levels of gender equality nor levels of descriptive representation seem to fully explain the gender gap in political interest, one must conclude there are other factors’ contributing to female’s lower level of political interest. It has been noted in several studies that in addition to a gender gap in levels of political interest, there is also a difference between the issues that males and females are concerned about. Looking at both Norway and Germany we can see that women are more likely to be concerned about the environment and less concerned about developments in new technology than males.

If politicians are to engage young women in politics they need to look at the issues they care about, which doesn’t just mean talking about “women’s issues” such as childcare, gender pay gaps and taxes on feminine hygiene products (although these are arguably important issues which could help ensure gender equality). Studies have shown that women are less interested in war, defense and international politics, but more interested in local politics and the environment. Looking at data from the Millennial Dialogue, males were more likely to think defense should be a high priority for public spending in all countries except Hungary and Bulgaria and females were more likely to feel priority should be given to the environment.

A final theory on why young females are less interested in politics is that they find party politics and the hierarchical political system unappealing. Testament to this the Millennial Dialogue finds that women in all countries, with the exception of Norway and Ireland, were much more likely to say they “generally do not trust politicians at all”. In Hungary 49% of women said they did not trust politicians at all compared to 40% of men. This shows politicians have their work cut out if they want to get young women involved in party politics.

In conclusion, if the next generations of girls and women are not to become disaffected with politics, politicians need to ensure that more women are represented in parliament, the issues women care about are discussed and a change is needed in the traditional hierarchical and patriarchal party system.

Posted By: Anna Kiel, Social & Political Research Executive at AudienceNet

Category: Politics
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