If you’re a millennial, the state of the world might seem bleak.
Generation X and Z are among the most disaffected youth we’ve ever seen; distrust in institutions, big companies, media and politicians is on the rise, and they’re pessimistic about the future and what it holds for them.
The 2019 Deloitte Millennial Survey surveyed over 16,000 young people aged between 18 and 36 across 42 different nations, including Australia, the US, Russia, Colombia, France and Israel.
The survey found that, despite coming of age in vastly different corners of the globe, today’s youth are similarly untrusting of big institutions and more likely to be worse off than their parents’ generations.
The 2008 Global Financial Crisis is highlighted as a key event that impacted employment prospects and wage reductions for younger generations, prompting other negative outcomes for young people, like having fewer assets or more debt than older people.
Ubiquitous social media platforms, like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, is affecting their outlook, with people more connected, but more isolated, than before.
Young people are also concerned about a lack of progress on pressing social issues, like climate change, protecting the environment and job security.
Most worryingly of all, however, is the growing trends among young people concerning their views on the media and politics.
43 percent of respondents think media ‘is having a negative impact on the world’, while 27 percent have ‘zero trust in the media as sources of reliable and accurate information’.
45 percent of millennials indicated that they have ‘absolutely no trust in either set of leaders as sources of reliable and accurate information’.
With the youth becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the current political climate, there has also been a spike in young people in favour of undemocratic governance.
A 2018 Lowy Institute poll on democracy found that 26 percent of young Australians aged 18 to 29 agreed with the statement ‘in some circumstances, a non-democratic government can be preferable’, up from 23 percent in the 2015 poll.
Over the past few years, there has also been a downward trend in the number of young people who agree that ‘democracy is preferable to any other kind of government’, down to 49 percent from 52 percent in 2017 and 54 percent in 2016.
These results pale in comparison to 74 percent of people aged 45 to 50 and 77 percent of people aged 60 and over in favour of a democratic government in the 2018 poll.
A similar 2018 study conducted by ANU showed Australians polling even higher in favour of an ‘authoritarian leader’, with 33 percent of respondents agreeing it would be ‘very good’ or ‘fairly good’. Young people were particularly supportive of this view.
In an interview with Fairfax Media, Dr Roberto Foa, political science lecturer at Melbourne University, suggested that young people with no prior experience of or exposure to a non-democratic government were less likely to oppose non-democracy.
“People don’t have the same negative experience of authoritarian rule and that has led to complacency regarding democracy and democratic stability,” he says.
Similarly, in the US and in Europe, including the UK and Germany, young people are increasingly supportive of undemocratic alternatives to the current political system, with many also more radicalised than ever before.
In fact, in 2016 only one third of American millennials believed civil rights were ‘absolutely essential’.
Extreme and bigoted language used by ‘would-be authoritarian’ figures in response to hot button issues conflates fear, prompting people to become increasingly conservative, nationalist and protectionist.
With a growing number of young people sceptical of mainstream politicians and policies, such divisive rhetoric used by extremist politicians is especially appealing because it is rejected by the same mainstream politicians they already distrust.
Among many, there is also a belief that mainstream political parties are ‘all the same’, giving rise to polarising right wing activists who promise extreme action.
This helps explain now-President Trump’s meteoric rise to power in 2016.
An outlier from the start, his inability to fit in with other candidates and stick to the well-trodden policy path were precisely his biggest assets.
Throughout his presidency, his attack on free press, or ‘fake news’ as he calls unfavourable coverage – while also describing associated media outlets as ‘an enemy of the people’ – has been particularly undemocratic.
Trump has over-exerted his power over the media on numerous occasions, revoking the press passes of journalists who disagree with his views or challenge him – even changing the rules to limit the number of reporters who are eligible to cover the White House.
The kind of restricted access Trump has attempted to enact will help maintain what’s known as a ‘feedback loop’, meaning that media coverage will be increasingly self-serving – and certainly different to the political discourse of bygone eras.
Among the 37 percent of millennials who support him, such self-serving media will likely further bolster their support.