Is Star Trek Fandom Really Divided Across Generational Lines?

Keith Wilson
Feb 9 · 9 min read

This project came from interaction in one of the Star Trek groups on Facebook. Someone posed the question as to whether or not generations play a role in our dislike or love of particular series. I went toe-to-toe with someone, with the position that generation would play a role, rather strongly or not, in which Trek people prefer. My thinking was that the first Trek you are exposed to creates the nostalgia that makes it, or series most similar to it, your preferred Trek.

The data surprised me in more than one way. My hypothesis was not completely incorrect, but it was not for the reason I anticipated nor as strongly correlated as I thought it might be. Ultimately, this survey has become a learning curve, and I have a more extensive survey already in the works to be released after Star Trek Picard wraps up in March 2020. If you would like to be informed when it is open, feel free to sign up on the mailing list to receive it in your inbox. You can access the raw data here and draw your own conclusions.

Method

I created a Google Form asking for the age range (based on commonly accepted generational divides as established by Pew Research and others), favorite and least favorite series, first series, and favorite movie. I also asked how many of the, as of this writing, nine series they had viewed completely, at least once. At the time of the poll, Star Trek Picard had only released two episodes. I also asked about their favorite movie, if they partake in any other forms of Trek lore, and in what region of the world they watched most of their Trek material. After there were about 150 responses, several people suggested, so I added, questions to rate each series and to describe how much of the series they had watched, as well as, which series they felt was best written. The link to the survey was shared on at least ten social media platforms, both in general areas, private shares, and specialized groups for Star Trek friends. Those platforms include Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Slack, MeWe, Pluspora, Tumblr, Instagram, Tapatalk, and Okuna. The survey was also texted to people, by both myself and reportedly by others. However, I did not ask people to report where they had found the link, so I have no true idea of how many people were from each place, or where else it might have been shared. The survey was open from February 1–4, 2020 and collected 3,589 responses.

I tried to get responses for every generation. However, many of Gen Z are too young for social media still, and many of the Silent Generation are no longer with us, with the average US (where most of the respondents were from) life expectancy, is less than 79 years of age and the youngest of that generation are still at least 73, or they are less likely to be on social media. As an individual, it would be impossible for me to get super robust data for these two generations. It is one of the reasons why I will just ask for your current age on the next, more detailed survey. Millennials make up the majority of respondents, however, they are currently the largest living generation that could have taken this online survey, often being dubbed the “Echo Boomers.” I also tried to control for this by separating the data by generations to see if responses held true among generations. The Silent Generation is the only generation that does not have at least several hundred respondents.

Analysis

I looked at information by generational divisions first. For clarification, <22 is considered Generation Z, 22–37 are Millennials or Generation Y, 38–53 are Generation X or Xers, 54–72 are Baby Boomers or just Boomers, and 73+ is the Silent Generation, which they were for this survey as only four of this generation were able to respond to this survey, which is one of the biggest issues I have with the methodology of this being a mostly-online survey, but being an individual pollster, online is all I can manage for collecting data.

Important abbreviations: TOS= The Original Series (1966–1969), TAS= The Animated Series, TNG= The Next Generation, DS9= Deep Space Nine.

First, I looked at each generation’s first, favorite, and least favorite series. I anticipated there would be a strong correlation between the first contact series and the favorite series. This does not seem to be the case at all.

As you can see, for the Silent Generation, 100% of the respondents first saw TOS, but their preferred series is TNG. Granted, there are only four respondents. So, let’s look at the Boomers’ data.

While 95% of Boomers started with TOS, just over ¼ of them prefer it. Meanwhile, Xers were fairly evenly split between TOS and TNG as their point of first contact. However, they prefer DS9 to TOS, though TNG is their most chosen favorite. It has been suggested that perhaps Boomers preferring any Star Trek more than the other generations seem to is because like the Silent Generation, they remember the nearly twenty years without any new Star Trek series and a decade with only Star Trek novels being released. I am not certain this is the reason, but it is a fair inference to make when we continue looking at the data.

As Millennials come into the Trek universe, they have more variety from which to have first contact than any of the previous three generations as a whole. In spite of having a larger number of options, almost all Millennials cut their teeth on TNG and find TNG and DS9 equally wonderful.

To be fair, TNG and DS9 were both on-air at the same time, and I personally remember watching one right after the other on my local channel, but every local station did its own thing, including airing the shows on different nights since both shows were in first-run syndication and not exclusive to one particular media company’s broadcasting repertoire.

Our final generation, Gen Z, the youngest of which are only in kindergarten at the time of this article, and the oldest of which are barely fully legal adults, have had every single series available to them on multiple platforms for a significant portion of their life, the first generation to grow up having this privilege. As such, I was personally very surprised that TOS and TNG were their first series. My own Gen Z offspring wouldn’t watch anything from before the turn of the millennium until very recently. Even more surprising is that the newer, arguably “better” CGI quality programming is not their preferred series, but rather TNG and DS9 still ring in as their undeniable favorites.

It seems, no matter the generation, TNG and DS9 reign supreme as Trek fan favorites. In fact, DS9 overwhelmingly won as the best written Trek, even though it only had about a third of the favorite series votes.

.

Just over a third (39.4%) of all respondents had watched less than half of all of the series at least once. This is not a move to gatekeep who is or isn’t a “true” Trekkie, as a fan of just things with Captain Picard in them are as true of fans as those who love the Kelvin timeline or who have watched every single episode, read every book or graphic novel, or even created podcasts about the universe. I only mention this because for some of the further analysis I only looked at those who had watched eight or nine of the series to completion. The reasoning being twofold, to see if someone who has watched all available series has an opinion differing significantly from the general vote, and because they have watched all of the series, versus one or three, they are able to pick a favorite out of all, versus a few.

The thing I was most interested in seeing was how Discovery seems to be fairing in the opinion of the fans. Looking at the data which includes everyone’s input, it is the least loved of all the series, with 30.6% of respondents choosing it. I think it is important to note that “least favorite” does not mean “hates.”

I looked at the data from both those who said they have watched the entire series versus those who have watched at least some of the series.

There doesn’t seem to be any difference in how much of the series you watched as to whether or not you dislike it. In fact, there is only a 3.1% difference between those who have watched every episode and the whole population of respondents who chose it as their least favorite series.

When we look at it on a generational scale, it seems that the older generations actually prefer Star Trek Discovery over the younger generations, with generation Z choosing a rating of terrible about 30% of the time, and Boomers choosing it about 20% of the time. None of the three respondents from the Silent Generation disliked Discovery.

So, how about the other series? Does being our least favorite mean we think it is terrible? Turns out, that seems to only be the case about 50% of the time.

I’m not sure we can conclude anything about Picard based on this data, as it had only aired two episodes when I started and ended my survey. However, the majority of people who chose it as their least favorite for now, apparently really do not like what they have seen so far. As you can see from this table, however, only 17 people chose Picard as their least favorite show.

Again, no matter how we look at the data, Discovery is still the running for least liked series, though it is only a third or so of Trekkies who seem to feel this way, they feel so strongly, it seems.

Ultimately, it seems the majority of Trekkies would likely agree with the adage that any Trek is better than no Trek. While there may be some generational differences, there doesn’t seem to be a major generational influence on favorite Star Trek series and only a minor influence at the extremes for least favorite series.

Ah, yes, the movies. We can’t seem to make up our minds about which movie is the best. First Contact and The Wrath of Khan seem to be the most loved, with The Voyage Home and The Undiscovered Country in a tie for third. I didn’t bother breaking it down by generations, because there really does not seem to be a significant difference in which generations love which Trek more. The next poll will let us see if we think Abrams really did butcher the New Trek Movies or not.

This original analysis was conducted by Keith and Lisianna Wilson. A more in-depth survey with subsequent analysis will be conducted and published soon.

Follow me on Twitter for my daily musings on all kinds of topics, including Star Trek and sci-fi in general.

Keith Wilson

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I’m just a tech-minded guy with a wicked sense of humor and curiosity about tech, science, sci-fi, politics, and sex.

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