What inspires young people to support social issues and participate in movements?
Humans are by nature empathetic, yet not every social injustice inspires action. What are the influences that prompt Young America to move beyond caring about an issue to standing up for change? And what then influences them to join social movements?
This report is the first of many to be conducted by the Cause & Influence Initiative.
In light of the rapidity with which information and opinions can flow and incite both positive and negative action on a grand scale, we must develop a deeper understanding of the remarkable power we have to influence each other.
It’s just as imperative that we learn to recognize the techniques used by successful influencers so we can make informed decisions about how to react.
Finally, by learning how to effectively influence others, we can make real strides toward improving the world around us.
This exploration is part of a larger initiative, Cause and Social Influence. Research will explore how Americans in their formative years are influenced to care about movements and social issues and to act on them. It begins with Influencing Young America to Act, a study of how Americans ages 18-30 are influenced by and influence others to act on social issues and major movements.
Executive Summary of Findings
The top issues for today’s Young Americans are civil rights/racial discrimination, gun safety, immigration and climate change, and they trust business least to address them.
Though government and business play significant roles in all these issues and Young America is overwhelmingly unhappy with the direction in which our country is moving, it's business they distrust more than government to make things right. Who do they trust the most? People like themselves, then nonprofits (good news for those active on social media) and then social movements.
Civil rights/racial discrimination was the top issue for African Americans and Asians. Caucasians were most concerned with healthcare reform and Hispanics with immigration, while civil rights/racial discrimination was No. 2 for both.
Young Americans view voting and purchasing decisions as ways to exert their own influence and force change.
Voting is believed to be more than just one’s duty as a citizen; Young Americans also believe it is the most effective means of creating change relevant to social issues and movements – and 66% intend to vote in November 2018. They also use their purchasing power to influence companies' behavior.
For voters, non-voters and those unsure if they’ll vote, civil rights/racial discrimination was the top issue. Two-thirds of Young Americans intend to vote in November 2018 elections.
Today almost half (48%) of Young Americans believe the U.S. is off track, while 27% believe the opposite. One year from now, those projections drop significantly for the former to one-third (33%), but only by 1% for the latter – reflecting a great deal of uncertainty about the future.
News coverage and nonprofits influence the most Young Americans to begin supporting a social issue.
After they first become aware of social issues via the news media, Young Americans were intrinsically moved to perform some action in support of an issue. Being asked to act by a nonprofit was the No. 2 influence for three of the four top issues.
Of the four top issues, climate change had the lowest percentage of respondents becoming first aware of it via TV news outlets. Yet, it was the only issue for which print news was among the top three sources of initial awareness.
Social media influences Young America to get involved in movements, yet their own initial foray does not involve social media.
The top current movements began on social media, and that’s how Young Americans say they first heard about them. Instead of turning to social media to act, though, they were more likely to sign petitions and attend rallies or protests.
Only with #AllLivesMatter did the news media exceed social media as the top influencer for movements.
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Social Issues of Interest
Movements of Interest
Research Advisory Board
The Cause and Social Influence Research Advisory Board participates in the development of the research agenda and advises the research team.
Amy N. Thayer, PhD | Cause and Social Influence
Maddy Roth | CAA Foundation
Tony Foleno | Ad Council
Stacy Palmer | The Chronicle of Philanthropy