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Changing winds of time in voting patterns:

Millennials vs. Baby Boomers

I recently returned to B.C. from visiting my son in Toronto. Getting around in the greater Toronto and Oshawa area is very different than it was over 30 years ago when I last lived in the area; independent towns and communities have become enmeshed into the megacity. I arrived with my maps of Toronto and Ontario in hand; my son used only his smart phone. I was impressed! He showed me how he used Google Maps and the GPS on his smartphone. I, however, still prefer my paper map to get the big picture of where I am going.

My son and I have grown up in very different times in Canadian history, in eras with discernable differences and influences on how we think, perceive and interact with the world around us. I am an early Baby Boomer; my son’s generation has been identified as Millennial, also known as Generation “Y.” I reached maturity in the early 1960s, in the years of the Cuban Missile Crisis and President Kennedy’s assassination. My son, born in the early 1980s, reached maturity at the turn of the century with its millennial fears, experiencing 9/11, growing up without a conscious memory of a world without computers.

I grew up in a time of post-war economic prosperity and increasing consumerization; a world of muscle cars, cheap gas and the technological ideals of unmitigated social-economic progress. These were early immigrant years in Ontario for me, and I frequently heard passionate neo-Calvinist sermons about the evils of liberalism, the idols of modern society and of raising signs of the Kingdom. I admit that I became a selective, inconspicuous consumer. My son’s formative millennial decades, on the other hand, were times of lesser social affluence, fewer economic opportunities for youth, the growing income gap, the creation of the GST, globalization and a growing fear of terrorism. The CRC church, influenced by the Church-growth movement, shifted its focus more towards personal salvation, with less theological reflection on political-economic philosophy during the millennial years.

The Millennial factor

Generational theory, though not an exact science, is often used today to reflect on marketing and consumer trends and to analyze political trends in voting patterns. One reason for the emphasis on the Millennial generation is that it reflects a large group (cohort), reflective of a high birth rate from 1977-1997– a potentially lucrative target-group of consumers and voters entering their careers and some nearing early middle-age. The Millennials, like the Boomers, represent large consumer voting blocks. As my generation is beginning to decline in numbers, the Millennials are beginning to take over. And the marketers, pollsters and political strategists are taking note. Millennials have been cited in helping to bring President Obama to office and, more recently, as influential in Justin Trudeau’s victory in Canada. The Millennial factor is also being strategized as possibly significant for B.C.’s provincial election next May 2017, and is worth reflecting on for our political economic awareness as Canadians in general, as the younger generation takes the place of the older generation in church and society.

Infused into the minds of the Dutch-Canadian immigrants I grew up with was a deep religious veneration for politicians and the systemic, political sphere of life. Perhaps, thinking back, it was too grandiose at times. The sacred institution of the “magistrate” took on such absolutistic dimensions, it seemed to me that modern politicians, as God’s servants, could do no wrong. Additionally, we had a deep respect for the Canadian government because of its involvement in the Liberation of Holland in 1945. We voted out of faith and respect.

This respect and veneration of, and for, politicians, is not manifested as deeply by Millennials today. It is said Millennials have a blasé mistrust and dislike of the remote, aloof, professional politician. They seem to prefer the human existential touch typified by the selfie and given voice in social media sound bites. Millennials do not put our Prime Minister and the politicians of the country on a divinely inspired pedestal; rather, they expect common respectful humanity of their politicians, not placing trust in scripted talking-points and rhetoric. They do not respond to politicians who don’t seem to speak to the changing needs of everyday life, but who are rather focussed only on their own political agenda. Millennials in Vancouver are actively voicing their own concerns about their very real needs for affordable housing, protesting impossible real-estate state prices (e.g. #donthavamillion). According to Evan Soloman, writer of “The New Political Long-Shot” in the June 27, 2016 issue of Maclean’s, “the younger generation looks for authenticity and even vulnerability; of Justin Trudeau, for instance, simply being human as he flip-flops on political promises.” Millennials speak out on issues real and vital to them, such as affordable housing, the environment, sexism and racism. My generation was issue-oriented too, but focused more on global issues, and on national political philosophy.

Working together

Voting is easier when the choices are clear regarding personality and political behaviours: the remoteness and parrot-like scriptedness of Harper compared to the “sunny ways” of a youthful Trudeau. But there is more to politics than political posturing and personalities. Political philosophical thought must also be vigorously engaged in parsing the ideology involved. Millennials, it is feared, may simply not show up on Election Day, using all their energy to exchange their opinions on social media. Regarding the approaching B.C. provincial election next May, Vaughn Palmer indicates that the Millennial turnout was not strong in the last federal election, and that the political options are more complex in the coming provincial election. In the recent federal election, Palmer notes, the Millennial voice was assisted by the popular, larger adult vote in a shared dislike for the Harper Government (“NDP can’t bet on youth”, Vancouver Sun, June 17, 2016). Millennials will truly need to do their principled homework and rely on more than which politician appears more authentic and appears to play less political games. Boomers will need to see the passion and desire for concern for the human community. However, every party is busy studying Millennials as a cohort of voters, eager for their favour next year, and will woo them with non-human technological political wizardry. Scripted authenticity anyone?

For the Christian, young or old, it is increasingly important to know just what that good is that God requires in governance and requires of his servants the politicians; political philosophy is necessary as well as a hermeneutic of justice-in-love. It will be incumbent on the boomers to vote not simply out of custom and routine, or unreflectively for policies rooted in economic self-interest. Nor is the Millennial demand for authenticity and humanity sufficient as the only criterion for good governance. Just as I am not about to adopt all my son’s Millennial ways in finding directions, but I do appreciate knowing how to use his tools and gadgets in a pinch, in politics it seems to me that an entwinement of the ideals and principles of the generations would be warranted. It could result in genuine collaboration for the health of the earth and the well-being of all our neighbour, for the common good. Politicians are public servants after all, not just for us individually, but especially responsible for the well-being of the poorest and most vulnerable of the land; for the land and all its creatures.

 

Christian Courier conducted an informal online poll of our subscribers in B.C. to find out their thoughts on the upcoming provincial election next May:

  • Exactly HALF of those polled had not thought about the election prior to the poll.
  • All of the Baby Boomers polled had previously thought about the election.
  • Economy/Jobs were the issues both age groups were most concerned about.
  • Education, Healthcare and Homelessness/Housing were listed as other important issues to the Millennials.
  • Protection of Natural Resources and Honesty/Integrity of Leaders were the issues that concern the Baby Boomers.
  • 95 percent of all respondents are planning to vote.

  • Henk Smidstra is a retired prison chaplain living in Surrey, B.C.

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