Young New Zealanders spent lengthy periods of their late teens or early 20s living under Covid-19 restrictions, but an exclusive Herald poll shows they appear to be far more optimistic about society than any other age group.
Forty-three per cent of 18- to-24-year-olds, more than double the other age cohorts polled, said society had become more united in the past few years.
Younger people were also more likely to think certain topical issues had brought us closer together, rather than pushed us apart.
The polling was conducted by Dynata in November as part of the Herald’s editorial series The New New Zealand: Rebuilding Better, in which we explore key issues facing the nation.
The current segment is examining the drivers of division in our society after two years of Covid-19, and how we might start to heal.
The Herald commissioned two polls, each with 1000 respondents. The first poll asked New Zealanders whether certain issues had united or divided us.
The second poll was designed to gauge Kiwis’ level of support for certain topical issues.
Although Kiwis considered several of these issues as divisive, there were four topics more people thought had brought us together than had pushed us apart.
They were sport; an increased acceptance of different sexual orientation and identity; music and culture; and the outdoors and nature.
Across all of these topics, except sport, the differences in responses between younger people, 18- to 24-year-olds, and older New Zealanders, aged 65 and over, were stark.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, 53 per cent said sport had brought us closer together, and the responses were evenly split across genders and age.
Overall, 12 per cent said it was divisive and 35 per cent said it had not made a difference.
Massey University sociologist Paul Spoonley said the polling, which was conducted after the Black Ferns’ Rugby World Cup win, showed the strong effect the team had on New Zealanders.
“[The image that stuck in my mind] is of Ruby Tui getting the crowd to sing Tūtira Mai (Ngā Iwi),” Spoonley said.
“New Zealand sporting audiences don’t normally sing and they don’t normally participate in that way and it’s just testimony to our support of them that she was able to do that.”
Forty-three per cent of respondents said the increased acceptance of different sexual orientations and identities in New Zealand was unifying. Twenty-six per cent said it had pushed us further apart, and 31 per cent said it had not made a difference.
Meanwhile, 57 per cent agreed that this increased acceptance was “good for all New Zealand”.
Vinod Bal, co-founder of Adhikaar Aotearoa, a charity championing LGBTQIA+ people of colour, said acceptance had increased but it was disappointing a proportion of New Zealanders held negative views.
Society at large needed to look inward, asses their biases and points of discrimination, and address them.
“There has been an increase in the normalisation of LGBT+ identity, that has come about through education about variation in human sexuality, and through that visibility in society,” Bal said.
“When one feels normal, and not like an alien, it makes it easier to be themselves.”
Spoonley, along with others, submitted a Cabinet paper in 2006 on social cohesion that emphasised the importance of participation, recognition and belonging. While society had certainly made progress, the Herald data on acceptance of different sexual orientations and gender showed we still had lots of work to do.
“It’s clear that there is a significant constituency in the New Zealand population that does not feel comfortable with the greater recognition of sexual orientation and identity, which is often hostile to that.”
One of the biggest differences in responses between age groups was for music and culture, with 64 per cent of younger people compared with 29 per cent of older New Zealanders (65+) considered it to be unifying.
Meanwhile, half of younger people, compared with a third of people aged 65 and older, said the outdoors and nature was unifying.
Spoonley was surprised and perplexed by the different responses by age groups throughout the poll. He said the findings challenged the stereotypes of younger people.
“Younger generations get a bad press and here we’ve got people who are reacting to a crisis and seeing positive benefits.”