The Rise of the Millennial Voice in Jamaica

The millennial, a term made popular around the world in recent history has not found much favor in the Caribbean until now. Jamaica's recent general election ousting the ruling People's National Party for the Jamaica Labour Party, a defeat that came as a surprise to most, reflects a global phenomenon which we have seen in many other countries over the last five years. Arrogant and complacent incumbents removed from power by an even more powerful, but seemingly quiet force, a frustrated and disenfranchised millennial population. This powerful group have quickly toppled long-standing dictatorships and forced legislative changes in instances where this was seen as otherwise impossible.

We witnessed this power with the Arab Spring, the independently organized uprisings that spread across the Arab World in 2011 affecting Egypt, Libya, Syria and others.

The story always repeats itself, the regime never sees it coming, but any social media savvy individual paying attention for the last three weeks was by no means totally shocked by the outcome of our election. We can't accurately predict an election, but what is for sure is that the old world methodologies of polling in Jamaica must be thrown out the door along with many other traditional political strategies.

Companies and governments around the world are spending billions to try and understand the next generation; a group that has been armed with more access to information and more channels of communication than ever before. Millennials are hyper connected and highly influential as they are able to amplify their views, multiply networks and galvanize groups around a cause, quickly and efficiently.

The PNP's decision to rally around lambasting Andrew Holness' house, tarnish his wife's family name and the decision not to debate struck a last nerve with a millennial population that is tired of petty politics and a lack of respect for democracy, with no focus on the issues affecting their lives. They are globally exposed even if just from the internet and television, as such they are well aware that a better Jamaica is possible and yearn to see growth and development in our nation. The lack of dialogue around the future of Jamaica and a refusal to discuss this in any public forum turned the election upside down. Millennials are enamored with seeing the triumph of the underdog. They don't appreciate what they would have considered as political bullying prompted by a superiority complex.

On the flip side the JLP successfully ignored the attacks and played the role of the 'bigger man' in this election. They executed a successful social media strategy strikingly similar to Obama's approach eight years ago. Andrew Holness was very visible on every platform including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram; you couldn't escape his message. His approach was personal, attentive and humanizing, giving the impression that he and his party were listening to the voices of the people, an important character trait for millennials. We can rest assured that this high impact strategy was likely significantly less capital intensive than the PNP's use of traditional media including radio and television ads. The JLP would be wise to ensure continued visibility and a listening ear through social media channels as a metric for success during their term if they wish to be in power beyond 5 years.

For years many have been calling for greater involvement from young people in politics, but with no suggestions of meaningful change this message has always been met with apathy. Involvement from millennials is unlikely to be seen in the traditional physical realm. They are an unlikely sight at political rallies and they are not tribal followers of either of our political parties. They would hate to be casted as either green or orange and align more with an independent stance choosing their side based on who they think has a plan and a vision for a more positive Jamaica. Up until the announcement of the election neither party sat in this seat and millennials prepared to sit this one out, until the antics of the PNP met up on seemingly more positive visuals for a prosperous Jamaica from the JLP. This gave young people the differentiator they had long been searching for.

This audience is willing to change their vote at the very last minute if material arises to sufficiently sway their judgement. The emergence of this hyper connected generation will see a reduction in blind loyalty to any single party and political pundits should remain aware of this - just as quickly as they voted in the JLP they will vote them out if they feel they are not holding up their side of the bargain. They demand transparency and accountability from their leadership, the Government works in the best interest of its people and not the other way around.

This is nothing new however; we have just have not documented the real power of social media in Jamaica. The atm tax introduced in 2014 had to be retracted due to the loud refusal by the social media population. The 5 billion dollar MOU associated with the proposed logistics hub project was quickly quieted by social media voices due to a lack of transparency as deemed by self-certified investigators who quickly rose to uncover the truth and used the medium to amplify their findings. Social media also provided a platform to rewind to these and other blunders casting the PNP as less competent.

Big media is no longer the only source of credible information in the digital age, but kudos must be given to our Jamaican newspapers for their efforts to publicize the views of the digital population and appropriate their own digital strategy in the coverage of the election. Unfortunately many political powerhouses on both sides have for many years publicly dismissed these views as those of the so-called 'articulate minority,' a very out of touch stance. The view that social media is largely unproductive is now outdated and a minority position. I have never understood Jamaica's gravitation towards the idea of an articulate minority, with our affinity towards academic achievement and thousands of university graduates per year, there are more than enough educated people out there to swing an election. One can also appreciate that the increased popularity of the internet and cable television have dramatically transformed the way we receive information and with low barriers to access our electorate is now evolving. We must now revisit our definitions for education and intellect.

This election sends a strong message with many lessons to be learned by all including the private sector, the PNP and the JLP. Millennials have been longing for their voices to be heard and they are armed with a device that has proven unstoppable the world over. They have the ability to publish their views to a massive audience with limited obstacles to entry beyond a solid message, which in no time can become viral. The Internet is the world's great equalizer and has become the ultimate decision maker and the new voice of democracy.

Kirk-Anthony Hamilton is an entrepreneur, investor and a World Economic Forum Global Shaper. He is the Founder of the Destination Experience and has been recognized as 1 of 75 Emerging Global Entrepreneurs by President Obama.