Young people often claim that they don’t vote because they are disillusioned with politics and politicians. They have no buy-in to the whole system. I think part of this can be written off to laziness. Many people simply don’t motivate themselves to find out about politics, to get involved because these things actually affect their lives in tangible ways. The ‘disillusioned move’ is shorthand for ‘can’t be bothered’.
However, there is another huge issue with young voter registration and involvement. Because (in this particular case, in the UK) the Conservatives realise that young people don’t vote, comparatively, and because they realise that old people, comparatively, do, they pander to the older voters and forget about the younger ones. This is also compounded by the fact that young voters, more idealistic and open to the outgroup, are more likely to vote left-wing (Labour, Greens etc.); moreover, older voters, less open to the outgroup, are more likely to vote right-wing (Conservatives, UKIP), pensioners particularly so.
As a result, politicians and policy-makers favour making policies that benefit the older generations and spend their time trying to canvass and appeal to those older generations. When they hear that the young are disillusioned, they pay lip service to trying to change that, but relly don’t want to change the status quo. If they go out and spend time on doorsteps and in the constituency, they will more likely visit a retirement home than a college.
Here are two examples of this approach:
Online voting: We trust banks with all of our money online. We shop for our groceries and Christmas presents and everything else online. We pay our bills online. The government could deliver online voting at a cinch. Yes, they will give all the barriers, like supposed potentials of higher fraud, etc. But really, if they wanted to do it, they would and cold do with consummate ease. Why don’t they? Who is more likely to vote online? The young.
Compulsory voting: In Australia, it is legally compulsory to vote in elections after you turn eighteen. This then makes you want to, by and large, get a little more interested in politics, to research your upcoming compulsory choice, and then means you are more empowered and involved. There are other arguments, put forward by the Electoral Commission in the UK, that first time voters should have an initial compulsory vote and subsequent votes be voluntary. This gets people involved and likely to vote in subsequent non-compulsory elections. Why don’t we do this now in the UK? This would be targeted specifically at young people, and we know who they are more likely to vote for. As reported here, the IPPR published a report on voter participation, “Divided Democracy: Political inequality in the UK and why it matters”:
Under this model, voters would be obliged to go to the polls once, on the first occasion they were eligible. Voters would only be compelled to turn out and would be provided with a ‘none of the above’ option on the ballot paper, should they not wish to cast a vote for any of the candidates. To ensure high participation rates, a small fine should be set to enforce the policy This measure would place a small burden on young people, but its main effect would be to force politicians to pay attention to them and their interests. The first reason is that voting is habitual…
Second, first-time compulsory voting is deliberately targeted at improving the representation of young people, where levels of turnout inequality are highest…
Third if politicians realised that young people would be voting in larger numbers then they could not afford, as is often the case now, to ignore their concerns and interests in favour of those of groups that already vote in large numbers… Fourth, if young people from poorer backgrounds were required to vote then this might encourage their non-voting parents and grandparents to exercise this democratic right, thereby closing the political inequality gap between classes as well as generations.
This is so painfully shameful that it annoys me. We saw that in Scotland, for the independence referendum (and I was skeptical about this myself when it was first tabled), that when sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds were given the right to vote, that generation was massively empowered and politicised and enfranchised. It was a total success.
Surely, we want our future generations to be politically empowered and enfranchised? It can so easily be done. But until they become politically valuable, until politicians want that young vote, they will be sidelined and purposefully disenfranchised. Policies will still be written to advantage the old, and when they need to cut costs in government, they will hit the young. We already know that austerity has hit the younger generation more. Back in 2015, the government were accused of being disproportionately harsh on the young. We have seen housing benefit for the young hit, tuition fee rises, the EMA totally cut, jobseekers’ allowance phased out for 18-21 year-olds, living wage not claimable until you are 25. In 2011, the average incomes of pensioners rose above the average incomes of the rest of the population for the first time. They also show people retiring now will be better off than when they were working.
The young are not politically valuable; the old are.
This video sums it up a treat (you might neeed to pause adblockers):