“Young people just don’t care about politics.” This cliché gets rehashed all the time, but is it actually true? Sure, we can’t always believe stats, but let’s have a look at them anyway.
In 2010, 43% (Reality Check: Has there been a surge in youth turnout?) of young people turned out to vote. It was even lower 5 years before that, with figures around 36% being cited. That’s scarily low, especially when you compare it the overall turnout of 61% in 2005 and 65% in 2010. Let’s get more recent and contrast a 43% (General Election 2017: YouGov Figures) young people to a 78% for over 65s turnout (with an overall of 66%) in the 2015 election. From a voting perspective, younger voices are being drowned out by older people, who vote in droves. And that means the older population has more of an influence, which means political parties shape their policies to cater for that, at the cost of younger generations, because there’s only so much money to spend (no “magic money tree”, right?)
And here we see a vicious cycle. I won’t go further into the reasons of why young people don’t vote because there are other pieces who do that a lot better than I can do it (check out this article on some of the reasons Apathy or Antipathy?). But I’m really tired of our apparent apathy with politics and the use of voter turnout stats to justify that. It didn’t used to be like this. In 1974, when the Wombats, Lego and package holidays to Spain were cool, 70% (Highest number of young people turnout) of young people voted. That would be unheard of today (sorry to disappoint, but the 72% figure thrown around after the 2017 election are very likely untrue). Now I’m not saying “let’s go back to the glory days of the 1970s”, rather the opposite! But maybe it’s not that we don’t care about politics, but we just get involved in a different way.
We are just as likely to engage in ‘social issues’ and to volunteer in grassroots campaigning, especially political rallies. We sign petitions, we discuss politics. It seems like we’ve come to the conclusion (I hate to homogenise an entire generation, but for simplicity, hear me out) that voting changes little, but that doesn’t mean we can’t change anything. There is more to democracy than voting. Young people across the world are starting to question whether democracy really is the best form of rule, but that’s a topic for another day.
This is a sentiment shared by much of the Nordic area. I was invited to a Summit on Democracy and Democratic Exclusion in Norway last week, where we discussed solutions to this voter apathy, but the unanimous idea that democracy is not limited to voting came up again and again.
The conference only lasted a day, situated pretty close to the gorgeous city of Oslo, yet I learned a lot and hopefully contributed. What was striking was that when turnout falls below 90%, these Nordic countries begin entire investigations, while the UK seems almost content with around 60%. Is this just a difference in culture, or something much deeper?
Mock elections are very popular, and even compulsory, in these countries, and they have shown to be very effective in creating interest in politics among young people. Really, really effective. They’re seen as a bit of a joke in the UK, but if done properly, they could really jump up our 18-25 voter turnout.
Above all, it was really insightful to hear about the perspectives of these Nordic young people through panel discussions and workshops on such a topical and troubling phenomenon. They’ll be relayed back to the UK and hopefully we can implement some of them. After all, if we don’t take some initiative and change things, then who will?