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Op-Ed: The Rise of Younger Americans — and How Embassies Can Connect with Them

By Michael Kaplun

The 2018 U.S. midterm elections showed that a new power bloc is on the rise in America: younger voters.

Millennials — generally defined as Americans ranging in age from 23 to 38 — are now actively going to the polls and making a difference with their ballots. In 2020, millennials will be joined in greater force at the polls by Generation Z, Americans born between the mid-1990s and early 2000s. According to the Pew Research Center, millennials and Gen Zers will make up nearly 40 percent of eligible voters in 2020, and other data suggest that turnout among these voters could approach or exceed 50 percent of voters.

This means that young people will assume an even greater role in shaping U.S. policy, and the diplomatic community should know how to connect with them through your country’s story.

Who Are They?
Understanding the likes and dislikes of young Americans, and what makes them tick, is crucial to reaching them effectively.

Opinion surveys of younger Americans tell us they are more diverse; less attached to party; more concerned about social justice issues; more interested in promoting equality, diversity and inclusion; more likely to say that immigrants strengthen America; strongly prefer diplomacy over intervention; more willing to take the interests of U.S. allies into account in determining U.S. foreign policy priorities; and more open to free trade with America’s major economic partners.

millennial and Generation Z voters
According to the Pew Research Center, millennial and Generation Z voters will make up nearly 40 percent of eligible voters in 2020, and other data suggest that turnout among these voters could approach or exceed 50 percent of voters.  Image by 5688709 from Pixabay

Their policy views generally differ from those of the baby boomer generation that has dominated U.S. policy for more than half a century. Pew Research found that younger voters are far more positive about open engagement with the rest of the world than older Americans. For example, nearly 70 percent say the United States should take its allies’ interests into account, even at the expense of U.S. interests, and 80 percent say openness to people from around the world is essential to who Americans are as a people and nation. In contrast, fewer than 50 percent of Americans age 55 and older hold these views.

Furthermore, millennial and Gen Z voters are far more supportive of free trade with other countries than older voters, and a majority of younger voters are far less likely to say that the United States “stands above all other countries in the world.”

How to Connect with Them
Not only do these younger generations think differently than older ones, they have very different consumption habits. Millennial and Gen Z voters are fiercely mobile, digital and distracted consumers of news and information. And they get it from a variety of sources, ranging from social media to news websites to podcasts. Recent data from Pew Research reveals that U.S. adults between the ages of 18 to 29 cite social media as their chief source of news, closely followed by news websites. Meanwhile, adults above the age of 50 overwhelmingly get their news by television (a more traditional medium).

To break through and reach these younger audiences, embassies in Washington should meet them where they are — and not limit outreach to just one channel. You need to leverage a healthy mix of communication platforms.

millennial and Generation Z voters
Opinion surveys of younger Americans tell us they are more diverse; less attached to party; more concerned about social justice issues; and more interested in promoting equality, diversity and inclusion.  Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Social media, such as Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Facebook and Instagram, allow you to connect directly with these audiences. You can follow them, they can follow you and you can quickly share your content. E-newsletters are another great direct channel to tell your story. Whether they are sent biweekly or monthly, e-newsletters allow you to send timely updates on your government’s activities, as well as related news and events, right to their email inboxes.

In addition, work to secure positive media coverage from traditional, established outlets with a strong digital presence. Send press releases (if you have something newsworthy to say) and hold briefings and conversations with journalists from credible news organizations. These low-cost activities can help you build relationships and earn trusted coverage in the outlets followed by younger voters.

And of course, face-to-face communication still makes a difference. Continue to meet with young Americans in person and invite them to embassy functions and events. These gestures and experiences can build lasting bonds over time.

Advocacy efforts should always be tailored to your audience, and in terms of who’s shaping U.S. policy, that audience is getting younger and younger. New generations are growing in influence and will shape America’s future. Start planning for how to reach them today.

Michael Kaplun is a strategist with The Fratelli Group (fratelli.com) in Washington, D.C. The Fratelli Group provides a range of diplomatic services to embassies, from communications strategy and outreach to research and analysis.



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