Young people are increasingly disengaged from the voting process. We all know the stats – young people don’t vote in nearly such numbers as their older counterparts – in 2010 this was 44% for 18-25 year olds compared with 76% of 65 years and over. Despite a huge drive spearheaded by the Electoral Commission, Bite the Ballot and NUS, with the support of numerous youth sector organisations, including NYA, turnout looks likely to be low again. What would reverse the trend and cajole young people into exercising their democratic right?
Votes at 16
The numbers of young people aged 16-17 years voting in the Scottish referendum was high – around 80% of the electorate. This is widely seen as making the case for allowing this age group to vote in all UK elections. Young people in this age group can join the army, can get married. They are taxed and pay national insurance on their wages. Giving them the vote is a logical step.
It would also allow schools to introduce voting as part of a person’s responsibility as a citizen, a habit to be established from a young age and continued throughout their lives.
The Scottish referendum also confirmed something we expected; that young people vote for more radical solutions. They voted roughly 70/30 in favour of independence according to an exit poll. Since then the Labour Party, the Greens and the Liberal Democrats have pledged to give 16 and 17 year olds the vote. The Conservatives have not, perhaps because it is unlikely to improve their percentage of the vote. The self interest of the main political parties is enough to turn you off politics forever – young person or not.
Of course it’s not just young people – there appears to be a huge amount of voter apathy amongst many groups. There are a host of reasons for this; the pale, male public school identikit nature of many of our politicians, the fact that the many parties’ policies are indistinguishable from one another. But nothing quite brings home the pointlessness of voting than a safe seat. The voter power website states that an average vote is actually only worth 0.253 of a vote as most MPs are in seats with a majority that is unlikely to be over turned. They estimate that 60% of seats will not change hands in May as they are safe or very safe seats.
PR (proportional representation) would dispense with safe seats and enable all votes to count. However it doesn’t favour the bigger parties, the Conservatives particularly, who are able to command more power with the ‘first past the post’ system we currently have. So don’t hold your breath.
There is a growing call to haul democracy into the 21st century and offer greater online engagement including voting. EngageSciences commissioned a YouGov poll which found 57% of all adults want to be able to express their opinions directly to politicians via digital and social media channels and this rose to 72% of 18- to 24-year-olds. It’s likely to meet with opposition, partly because if it engages digital savvy people so effectively, it has the capacity to challenge the age old patterns of voter engagement.
Political parties could also try engaging young people by making policies which tackle the issues that matter to them. They could try designing policies which give them access to skills, training, jobs and housing. They could stop playing party politics treat young people like citizens.