90 Percent of Gen Z Tired of How Negative and Divided Our Country Is Around Important Issues, According to Research by Porter Novelli/Cone

Marked increases in Gen Z’s belief companies must address hot-button issues like gun control and LGBTQ+ rights
Oct 23, 2019 10:15 AM ET
Press Release

NEW YORK, October 23, 2019, /3BL Media/ – Nearly nine-in-10 (87%) of Gen Zers are worried for the environment and the planet, according to the 2019 Porter Novelli/Cone Gen Z Purpose Study. The study, surveying Americans ages 14-22, examines this emerging generation’s expectations of and attitudes toward company involvement in social and environmental issues – and the actions they are willing to take to positively impact topics they care about.

“The events of the past year show the steadfast determination of Generation Z to make their mark,” says Brad MacAfee, CEO, Porter Novelli. “This research not only reinforces what we’re seeing in the marketplace, but also how companies can engage this generation that is so driven to change the world for the better.”

Tired of the divisive narrative that has taken over the national news, 94 percent of Generation Z believes our country needs to come together to make progress on important issues. In fact, 85 percent would rather focus on the positive progress we’ve made rather than the negative.

This generation feels profoundly influenced by events that have impacted them directly in recent years. Eighty-six percent of Generation Z says events like the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting have made them care more about issues affecting them. This cohort feels they are the key to change moving forward. Nearly nine-in-10 (87%) percent are inspired when their peers like Emma González and Greta Thunberg take stands on issues and just as many (88%) say their generation has the power to change the world for the better. And even up against nearly insurmountable problems and increased urgency, Gen Zers remain hopeful – with more than three-quarters (76%) stating they believe in five years’ time we will have made advancement on important issues.

Looking to align with Purpose-driven companies

While they feel personally responsible to make a difference, the vast majority of Gen Zers (90%) also believe companies must take action to help social and environmental issues. And they’re holding these organizations accountable. More than nine-in-10 (93%) say if a company makes a commitment, it should have the appropriate programs and policies in place to back up that commitment and three-quarters (75%) will do research to see if a company is being honest when it takes a stand on issues.

Companies that demonstrate authentic Purpose to this astute demographic will be rewarded, as Gen Zers use Purpose as a core filter in deciding which companies to associate with. Eighty-three percent (83%) consider a company’s Purpose when deciding where to work and nearly three-quarters (72%) factor in a company’s Purpose when shopping.

“In the ever-increasing war for budding talent, companies must understand that Purpose is a strong filter for Generation Z,” says Alison DaSilva, EVP Purpose & CSR, Porter Novelli/Cone. “Gen Zers are not willing to check their values at the workplace door, so companies need to clearly communicate how they are making an impact to appeal to this driven but discerning generation.”

Priority issues among Generation Z

While Generation Z feels unprecedented urgency around many pressing issues, the environment (26%) is the top priority that they want companies to address. This issue superseded poverty and hunger (19%), which led in 2017, as the one issue they want companies to solve for. Other ranked issues include:

  • Human rights (19%)
  • Economic development (14%)
  • Health and disease (13%)
  • Education (10%)

When looking specifically at the hot-button issues gracing headlines today, Gen Zers feel companies have a role to play in solving for myriad topics. Although environment is a priority, it is not exclusive. Job creation (91%) remains the top news-worthy issue Gen Zers want companies to address, following by racial equality (90%), sexual harassment (90%) and women’s equality (89%). Other topical issues include:

  • Climate change (85%)
  • Religious freedom and tolerance (83%)
  • Immigration (81%)
  • Gun control (80%)
  • LGBTQ rights (74%)
  • Fake news (67%)

Notably, the research saw a significant jump among two specific topics. The percentage of Gen Zers who saw gun control and LGBTQ+ rights as priority issues for companies to engage around both grew roughly 15 percent from 2017 (from 68% to 80% for gun control and 65% to 74% for LGBTQ+ rights).

“As a generation that sees a school shooting every twelve days on average and the rights of their LGBTQ+ friends become compromised, it’s no surprise they are looking to companies to engage on and influence these issues,” says DaSilva. “Gen Zers are seeing the impact of many of these issues first-hand, and they are determined to change the course.”

Taking action for impact

Generation Z does not expect companies to go it alone, they’re willing to roll up their sleeves and participate. Around three-quarters of Gen Zers stand ready to support companies that care in a variety of ways, including: sharing their positive opinion about a company doing good (85%), buying a product with a social or environmental benefit (84%) and learning what they can do to make a difference (84%). Engagement spans both on- and offline actions:

  • Volunteer (83%)
  • Sign a petition (82%)
  • Donate (81%)
  • Boycott/refuse to buy from a company (77%)
  • Research if a company is helping or hurting society or the environment (77%)
  • Share social or environmental information with social networks (77%)
  • Take an online action to trigger a donation (76%)
  • Protest (67%)

Social media as a change driver

As truly digital natives, Generation Z uses social media not only to learn about issues, but to make a meaningful difference. More than nine-in-10 (91%) Gen Zers say they use social media to learn about and participate in issues they care about. They feel so well-informed, in fact, that more than three-quarters (77%) say they know more about important issues than their parents or guardians.

This generation sincerely feels social media engagement can drive change. Eight-in-10 (80%) feel they can have an impact on issues by using social media, so much so that 64 percent believe supporting issues online is more effective at making a difference than doing something in their communities. They view their engagement on their social channels as a powerful way to motivate others to care (35%). They are less motivated by more self-serving reasons such as making themselves look like a good person (7%). Other motivations include:

  • It shows others what they care about (17%)
  • They want to be a part of the conversation about the world around them (15%)
  • It shows they are informed (9%)

Over the past two years, Generation Z’s habits and preferred social media platforms have changed. While Facebook remains relevant (61% vs. 66% in 2017), it dropped in importance. Now Gen Zers are more likely to turn to YouTube (64% vs. 50% in 2017) as the priority channel, followed by Instagram (63% vs. 51% in 2017). Other channels include:

  • Snapchat (47%)
  • Twitter (38%)
  • Pinterest (21%)
  • Reddit (15%)
  • LinkedIn (9%)

“Generation Z has seen the effectiveness of social media to amplify one single voice into a movement, and they’re using it as a powerful lever to make their demands heard,” says MacAfee. “This generation is empowered, committed and driven, so let’s help them amplify their impact by giving them more tools to change the world for the better.”

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About the Research

The 2019 Porter Novelli/Cone Gen Z Purpose Study presents the findings of an online survey conducted by Toluna from August 12-15, 2019 among a random sample of 1,026 American consumers ages 14-22, comprising 500 males, 515 females and 11 other. The margin of error for a sample of this size is ± 3 percent at a 95 percent level of confidence.

About Porter Novelli & Cone

Porter Novelli is a global public relations agency born from the idea that the art of communication can advance society. More than 45 years ago, we opened our doors – and people's eyes and minds – for brands driven to make a positive impact. Today, we believe that organizations must find, live and tell their Purpose in order to thrive. Those companies will motivate action, secure loyalty and encourage advocacy — all in service to a healthier bottom line.

In 2017, Cone joined Porter Novelli, and the next year formed the world’s largest dedicated Global Purpose Practice. Together, with a collective 80 years of experience and more than 100 subject matter experts, Porter Novelli and Cone help more than 140 organizations define their authentic Purpose, weaving it into the brand DNA to both grow the business and positively impact the world. Our deep subject matter expertise in Purpose Brand Strategy, CSR, Social Marketing, Social Impact and Brand Communications creates breakthrough work and unforgettable experiences to ignite action around issues that matter. For additional information, please visit www.porternovelli.com/. Porter Novelli is a part of the Omnicom Public Relations Group.

About Omnicom Public Relations Group

Omnicom Public Relations Group is a global collective of three of the top global public relations agencies worldwide and specialist agencies in areas including public affairs, marketing to women, global health strategy and corporate social responsibility. It encompasses more than 6,300 public relations professionals in more than 370 offices worldwide who provide their expertise to companies, government agencies, NGOs and nonprofits across a wide range of industries. Omnicom Public Relations Group delivers for clients through a relentless focus on talent, continuous pursuit of innovation and a culture steeped in collaboration. Omnicom Public Relations Group is part of the DAS Group of Companies, a division of Omnicom Group Inc. (NYSE: OMC) that includes more than 200 companies in a wide range of marketing disciplines including advertising, public relations, healthcare, customer relationship management, events, promotional marketing, branding and research.