RJI hosts panel on understanding millennials in politics

Media enthusiasts listened in on how understand millennial voters and ways to engage the younger generation.

Media and politics enthusiasts gathered in the Reynolds Journalism Institute on Oct. 29 with one goal in mind: to understand millennials.

Five expert panelists presented their research on how new media affects voting patterns and involvement in politics, particularly among the millennial generation.

Panelists included Leticia Bode from Georgetown University, Stephanie Edgerly from Northwestern University, Emily Vraga from George Mason University and Christopher Wells and Dhavan Shah from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“Here at RJI, our mission is to strengthen democracy through better journalism,” Executive Director of RJI Randy Picht said to begin the forum. “Millennials and politics — you just can’t get any better than that for those two topics of democracy and journalism.”

The event was live-streamed on the RJI website and attendees were encouraged to tweet their thoughts using #youngvotersMU.

Shah began the research presentation by discussing a changing media landscape. He detailed how people used to be more politically influenced by their family. Today, with the expansion of social media, people are becoming increasingly more politically influenced by their peers.

Bode continued the conversation by sharing research on how millennials learn about politics, adding that social media provides a platform for debate and discussion.

“Civic education is at its best when students feel like they can debate the issues, when they feel comfortable expressing disagreement in the classroom.” Body said. “All of those things have positive outcomes for political socialization.”

Vraga explained the problems with production of content on social media, and pointed out that only 31 percent of people produce the majority of political content consumed. The concern among researchers is that the people producing content may not be representative of the people reading it.

Edgerly presented her research on how the political views of younger people tend to align with their parents’ beliefs. Often younger consumers use the same platforms as their parents to find their news.

Wells closed the presentation portion of the forum by talking about what people define as news. Politics, Wells said, was No. 9 on a “what is news?” survey list.

The panel then accepted questions from the audience. The questions included how media outlets could use the panelists’ research to get young audience engagement and how young engagement affects election outcomes.

The subject of mobilizing the younger generation drew crowds other those interested in journalism and politics.

“I’m really interested in public policy,” senior economics major Helen Bass said. “I’m trying to figure out how to get other students interested in public policy.”

However, with a limited amount of time for questions, she said she felt that more information could have been shared.

“What issues are shutting down conversation? Starting conversation?” Bass said. “What things do you click on and overall do we have more access to news? I guess I was expecting more when I first came.”

After the Q&A, attendees mingled outside of the panel and enjoyed free coffee and cookies before leaving.

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