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Generation Angst – Politically Enraged But Not Politically Engaged



Study from Edelman shows that 1,000 16 to 18-year-olds surveyed fret about their place in a world that is changing too fast for their comfort

Generation Angst – Politically Enraged But Not Politically Engaged

First-time voters in the 2020 general election feel an urgent need for reassurance about their future, but have no faith in any current politicians to offer it, according to new research for the Edelman Trust Barometer. The study shows that the 1,000 16 to 18-year-olds surveyed fret about their place in a world that is changing too fast for their comfort. It paints a picture of an angst-ridden generation, worried about their chances of success in adult life. 

• The pace of change is too fast. 3 in 5 think social media is changing too quickly, 2 in 5 are concerned about AI and robotics, and nearly half feel the pace of change in mobile technology is too fast.

• Party politics and current political leaders are disdained – asked to choose who they might vote for to be Prime Minister, the clear winner was ‘None of the Above’

• Facts still matter. Youngsters are more trusting of experts than their elders. 9 in 10 say they are influenced by fact-based arguments rather than emotional appeals, and 3 in 5 expect their sources to be grounded in evidence

While the national survey shows that tomorrow’s adults are alarmed by the legacy of Brexit, and agonise about their financial security, they are distrusting of all institutions to do what is right for their future.

Logical, thoughtful and surprisingly conservative, the cohort of teenagers wants answers; and while they do not see politicians, or indeed any aspects of modern life currently providing that reassurance, ‘Generation Angst’ finds solace in the opinions and advice of experts.

The research was conducted by Edelman UK & Ireland as an adjunct to the mass Trust Barometer of 33,000 respondents globally, to define what makes the next generation of British voters tick. 

“What we see is a troubling picture: there is a swathe of anxious young people who are looking for reassurance about the future,” Ed Williams, chief executive of Edelman UK & Ireland, said. 

“They have left childhood behind, but don’t like what they see up ahead of them. Rather than the optimism of youth, they show a greater angst about the future than their parents do. They still trust some older people, and they have faith in experts in a way their parents seem to have forgotten, but will it last?

“This survey offers a chance for politicians, for business and the media, to understand attitudes of a cohort that will soon be voting as well as forming lasting relationships with brands and media sources.”

Generation Angst – what’s bugging them?

The research provides a snapshot of a misunderstood generation: surprisingly conservative, thoughtful, anxious and trusting of experts. They feel that their parents’ and grandparents’ generations have left them a poisoned legacy through Brexit and an unaffordable housing market.

They are racked with the same anxieties as their elders. Uncertainties about home-ownership and career success far outweigh concerns regarding brands or consumerism.

Showing a maturity that belies their image, the teenagers said their greatest concerns for the future were an increasing cost of living (77%) and not being able to afford their own home (63%), closely followed by “having the skills for the jobs of the future” (58%). Of much less importance were fears about seeming unfashionable (7%), or the impact of immigration on their area (8%) or pressure to have a perfect life online (10%).

The teenagers are not optimists: most think they will be worse off or the same as their parents’ generation.

A big surprise in the survey was the discovery that younger people are in fact more concerned about the pace of change than older citizens, with most concerned about the pace of change in social media. 59% said it was too fast, something which will surprise their parents who tend to think of this as a world where their children find comfort and familiarity. Other areas they were less comfortable with the pace of change than their elders were in the media (42% vs 30%), entertainment and fashion (in both cases 38% vs 25%) and general technology (41% vs 35%).

But if the next generation of voters has a conservative outlook in some ways, they do not seem to have a strong sense of community. While the survey saw them ranking being there for family (67%) and friends (51%) as extremely important parts of their daily lives, they reported far lower interest in wider society, with only 24% saying they wanted to have an influence on society, and even fewer wanting to be active in political or public debate (14%) or participate in their local community (10%).

Politically enraged, but not politically engaged

Although the young people surveyed were broadly in line with the general population when it comes to trust in government as an institution (28% vs. 26%), they were even more sceptical about the individual parties and politicians. Only 19% thought that the government understood them.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, the teenagers are more trusting than older generations of the Labour party (by 40% to 25%) and the Green party (39% to 27%), but individual politicians hold little appeal for them. Top ranked for trust was Sadiq Khan trusted by 34% (compared with his score of 24% of the general population) followed by Jeremy Corbyn with 30% (23%) and Theresa May 29% (35%). Boris Johnson on 21% fared worse than with adults (24%) as did Nigel Farage on 12% (20%).

The teenage respondents showed a clear desire to participate in the political process, with 69% believing under 18s should have a right to vote, but that did not translate into support for any named political leader.

The highest ranked politicians in a list of potential Prime Ministers was Jeremy Corbyn who won the support of 18% with nobody else scoring above 12% (Theresa May scoring 11%). But the Labour leader was clearly beaten into second place by ‘None of the Above’, a choice that scored 22%.

Brexit Blues

The young are well known to be Remainers and the Edelman survey reflected this too, with 7 in 10 saying they would have rejected Brexit if they had been asked. A majority, 52%, said that the result of the referendum should not be acted on. 

The reasons for this are clear: Generation Angst feels that Brexit threatens their prospects. Some 64% said that the referendum result made them more worried about their future and only 14% of younger people said they felt more confident about a post-Brexit world.

Their chief concerns were not for the effect on Britain but on political stability in Europe as a whole, which 63% said would be weakened by the referendum result, while the effect on the British economy and on future generation was a matter of concern to 60% and 59% respectively.

Asked which institutions they trusted to “do the right thing” over Brexit the young people favoured the EU itself (34%) over the British government (32%). In January, the general population reversed this by a margin of 26% to 15%. 

A silver lining?

There are some reasons for optimism. Despite almost half of teenagers surveyed in the UK losing faith in the system, they are twice as likely to believe the system is working than the general population, suggesting that they are not quite as disillusioned with the world around them as those who have been living in it a little longer.

And there were very clear signs that the younger generation has not had enough of “experts”, or indeed of information based on data and logical argument.

By a huge margin, 81% to 19%, the young people said they trusted experts over people like themselves. In the general population survey in January, the result was a 51% to 49% split. The young group also said they were influenced more by logical argument than emotions by 86% to 14%.

They listed teachers and professors as their most influential and trusted sources of information (81% and 78% respectively), which their elders had scored only at 66%. They were much less likely to trust “someone like me” than the general population (44% vs 74%).

Where do they turn for information?

The media as an institution is seen as untrustworthy but individual sources are trusted. The young people clearly distinguished between the media as an institution, which was trusted by a mere 17%, lower even than the 24% of the general population Edelman tested in January, and the different types of media they might use on a daily basis.

Although the Barometer research did not ask about individual media titles or companies, the teenagers showed that they were more trusting of traditional media – TV, radio and newspapers - than their elders by a margin of 59% to 48%, and more than 8 in 10 youngsters say they are regularly engaging with current affairs.

However, they trust algorithms to select stories for them more than human editors, by a margin of 65% to 35%, and search engines over information from their personal contacts 63% to 37%.

They also showed a greater propensity to rely on external expertise than the “filter bubble” of information that has become increasingly influential on people of voting age.

Business has an opportunity

The high performance of brands that teenagers know and use as a source of trust indicates an opportunity for the business world to help young people feel reassured about their future. Some 56% trust these brands to understand them. 

However, when it comes to winning closer relationships with young customers, they are split on brands’ efforts to engage them. Half of those surveyed (51%) agreed that it was “almost impossible for me to imagine having a relationship with a brand in any meaningful sense of the word”. A similar proportion said they wanted brands to entertain them (51%) and that brands could have “unique personalities” (50%). 

Similarly, almost 1 in 4 said that certain brands played an “important role in my life beyond their products”, while a equal number said they were annoyed by attempts by brands to be their “friends”. 

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Edelman UK, Tue, 28 Feb 2017 12:00:02 GMT