[ANALYSIS] Does Gen Z care about social and political issues?

Next year’s elections will prove pivotal for our country.  

With issues like federalism and charter change looming in the horizon, electing the right leaders (especially senators) has never been more crucial for the future of our country and our democracy.

At the same time, a sizeable number of next year’s voters will comprise the youth. This year, based on Commission on Elections data, nearly a fifth of all registered voters (18.5%) are aged 15 to 24 – those more or less belonging to the so-called “Gen Z.” 

But is Gen Z up to the challenge of #PHVote2019? Are they sufficiently engaged in social and political discussions? How much do they care about the most pressing issues of the day? 

Studies profiling the Filipino Gen Z are few and far in between, and as far as I know no study has yet been made about their civic engagement and political views.

But in this article I would like to share what perhaps comes closest: the Far Eastern University (FEU) Public Policy Center’s College Experience Survey, the new results of which were presented to the public last week. (Disclosure: I am currently research coordinator of Center.)

College Experience Survey

What is the College Experience Survey or CES? 

It’s a longitudinal survey that aims to understand how the college experience molds several aspects of students’ lives: from their motivations, attitudes, activities, values, abilities, and opinions.

By “longitudinal” we mean that students were surveyed in their freshman year, and then asked roughly the same questions as they went through their sophomore, junior, and senior years. 

Right now the CES has followed two cohorts of students: those who were freshmen in 2014 and in 2015. 

The survey was conducted across 9 schools for the 2014 cohort (a total of 4,323 sampled students) and 25 schools nationwide for the 2015 cohort (6,676 sampled students).

By using “randomized block sampling” the survey is – to the best of our efforts – representative of more than 27,000 college freshmen in 2014, and more than 53,000 college freshmen in 2015. (The detailed methodology and results will soon be uploaded on the FPPC’s website.)

Note, however, that the results speak for the students in the participating schools only, and not for Gen Z at large. 

The CES is also not specially designed as a survey on the youth’s civic engagement (the FPPC is planning to conduct one such study in the future).

Plugged-in, but apathetic?

What can we learn from the CES? (In the interest of brevity let’s confine ourselves to the results for juniors of the 2014 cohort.) 

First, the sampled Gen Z students not only obtained a lot of their knowledge and information from online sources, but also deemed them as the “best” sources.

As many as 44% said they used technology and online sources of knowledge very often (Figure 1) and 88% agreed somehow that it’s “best” to get news from social media (Figure 3).

These numbers are unsurprising given that Gen Z were born into a time when digital media are fairly advanced and Internet use widespread.

At the same time, only 8% said that they very often critically evaluated the information they received, and only 12% said they very often asked questions or clarified ideas in class. 

This, combined with their singular reliance on information from the Internet and social media, could make these Gen Z students particularly susceptible to all manner of disinformation – from clickbait articles to misleading memes.

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Figure 1

Another thing about Gen Z is that they’re not as politically engaged as we might think (Figure 2).

As many as 86% of the surveyed students said they never demonstrated for a cause, while 71% never worked on a local campaign, whether national or local. Moreover, 24% or almost a fourth said they never publicly communicated their opinions about a cause, and 17% said they never discussed politics.

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Figure 2

Meanwhile, only 39% thought themselves very good or excellent in keeping abreast with current events and national issues, and only 25% said it was very important to keep updated with political affairs.

Opinions 

This seeming apathy among the surveyed Gen Z students might explain their opinions on a host of social and political issues, which the CES also asked (Figure 3).

Around 62% strongly agreed that “hard work is the most important element of success in Filipino society,” while 49% strongly agreed that “corrupt government officials are entitled to a full and fair trial.”  

Meanwhile, strongest disagreement was found in controversial propositions like “there’s nothing wrong with premarital sex” (24%), “divorce should be legalized” (23%), and “same sex marriage should be allowed” (21%). 

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Figure 3

Disquietingly, as many as 56% agreed that the “death penalty should be reinstated” and 41% agreed with the claim that “summary execution is a legitimate method of crime control.” 

At the same time, 33% said they were still uncertain whether “EJKs (extrajudicial killings) are being used as a method of crime control”— despite the overwhelming evidence.

Finally, 34% somehow agreed that the “government can give up our claim in the West Philippine Sea in exchange for ventures with China.”  

The considerable agreement on certain issues – like reinstating the death penalty or giving up our claims in the West Philippine Sea – is unsettling to say the least. Even more so are opinions about factual matters that are supposed to be beyond reasonable doubt (like the existence of EJKs).

Yet, at the same time, the significant uncertainty on certain issues – like summary execution as a legitimate crime control method (39%) and the existence of EJKs (33%) – gives us hope that a considerable portion of Gen Z could still be swayed to make more informed opinions, especially since many of these issues will likely figure in the upcoming elections. 

What can we do?

The picture that emerges, therefore, is that Gen Z—at least those in our survey—have quick access to information online and are immersed in social media, yet not very diligent critical thinkers and not so politically engaged. 

This is not to say, of course, that Gen Z is totally apathetic. To reiterate, our study is not representative of Gen Z at large, and to tell more about them perhaps a dedicated survey on civic participation is needed.

In addition, we must update and expand our traditional notions of civic engagement and political activism. 

Instead of being just confined to holding up placards or attending demonstrations, we must now count in online furor against fraternity-related violence on Twitter, or the widespread use of Winnie the Pooh profile pictures on Facebook.

Having said that, how can parents and schools instill a greater sense of civic consciousness and political awareness among Gen Z? How can we arm them with skills and attitudes that will make them more critical thinkers in this age of disinformation and social media?

The outcomes of the 2019 elections could very well hinge on the answers to these questions. Luckily for us, it’s not yet too late. – Rappler.com 

 

 

JC Punongbayan

JC Punongbayan is a PhD candidate and teaching fellow at the UP School of Economics. His views are independent of the views of his affiliations.

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