Why young people don’t vote

Am I for Votes at 16? I suppose I am, in the sense that we had that in the Scottish Referendum so I think the precedent is now established (indeed it was established in Austria some time ago). But I have to caution that the notion this will suddenly double or treble the turnout among young voters is laughable.

He is my theory – though ’tis only that – on why young people tend not to vote: they are not used to compromise – whereas politics requires it.

Society and technology have changed significantly since the mass turnout elections of the 1950s. When my parents wanted to listen to music, they had to put up with a jukebox or a single family communal radio – in all likelihood they didn’t like most of the music they heard. By the time I was first taking an interest in politics and such like, we had moved on to walkmans – at least I could select my own albums and perhaps even make my own compilations and listen to them alone, but even then I would inevitably have to listen to a number of songs I was not keen on to get to the ones I really liked (and even then, replaying the ones I really liked meant the hassle of mastering the rewind, forward wind buttons). However, in the era of MP3 players young people can not only listen to their own music in private, but even download only the music they like – they never have to listen to a song they don’t like.

So it goes on. The notion of the communal family meal where everyone eats the same thing, even when that is something they don’t particularly like, is fading fast – it certainly doesn’t happen in my family. Young people can listen only to the music they like; and eat only the food they like. Whether this is socially desirable or even economically viable or environmentally sustainable is another matter – it is what happens.

So it is at the polling station. Young people want to vote only for candidates and/or parties with whom they agree entirely. If there is a single issue on which they disagree, they see no reason to vote for that candidate or party. The fact that withholding their vote effectively punishes the party with whom they agree on 90% of issues and rewards the one with which they agree on only 10% is neither here nor there.

It is absolutely not that young people aren’t politically minded – I suspect they are more so than any previous generation. It is not that they can’t be bothered (or that somehow making the act of voting easier would see them all turn out in their droves) – voting isn’t difficult and when it came to a really big but straightforward issue in Scotland last month they turned out in almost as big a proportion as any other age group. It is that they see no need to compromise.

Whether they are right or wrong in that is not for me to say. However, I do know that they are being punished for it. Older people – who do vote – get their pensions protected, their public transport free, their interests prioritised. Younger people – who don’t vote – see their benefits removed, pay full whack for a public transport they absolutely rely on because running a car is expensive, and their interests generally ignored. Because their interests are ignored, young people see nothing in it for them to vote – but actually not voting is the problem!

It is time for re-balance this vicious cycle and this democratic deficit. It is time for young people to participate not just in campaigns but in actual voting and partisan democracy, imperfect as it is. In short, maybe it is time to compromise?


4 thoughts on “Why young people don’t vote

  1. Reblogged this on keyairamcneill and commented:
    This is very interesting!!!!

  2. The Listener says:

    You are correct in that most young people do not know the rules of the game and do not have the patience to learn. However the fundamental problem is that unlike Germany there is no formal educational effort through the educational system to teach them to appreciate the political system.

    After the Scottish Independance referendum there was much euphoria about the perceived uptake on participation by the young voter. There were calls in the Scottish Parliament for voter responsibility classes in schools. Will that happen? Hopefully it will.

  3. I agree with very few of your conclusions, but I commend the thought and attempt.

    I don’t see how young people of any generation do not appreciate that pensioners get subsidies for transport and state pensions after the end of their ‘working lives’, when they are either unable – or merely prevented because of age – from being able to earn as they did in years gone by. Nor do I appreciate how young people of any generation would see that as their being punished for not getting there yet. Unless their life is tragically cut short, they WILL get there. No one is being punished – the elderly are being supported. That’s the point of tax and NI.

    If the current “young” generation do not appreciate that, then there has been a substantial educational failing all of a sudden. I doubt that this has occurred.

    Perhaps some are not voting at all because they do not want to compromise on their views and do not see the mainstream political parties as suitable and are looking around for something they agree with more fully and are not seeing it. I suspect however that a more likely explanation, which in a way encompasses that conclusion, is that the main political parties are too similar these days to be told apart, and with so much spin and so many lies being told making it harder than ever to know who to believe (where you even have Parliament debating on whether something has been halved or not – think about how absurd that really is).

    That is arguably one thing this generation has had to deal with that previous ones did not – or at least on the same scale; how much information that conflicts is being thrust at you, leaving you confused and unsure.

    The young tend to have much greater idealism. This simply gets eroded for most by experience. Right and wrong is not so black and white as shades of grey. You realise that many right and wrong things now are actually more a point of view (and yes, Obi-Wan was right about that). Right now that maybe not something a young person can see. They probably will, in time.

    The young learn to realise that the only real difference between them and the ‘old’ is time and experience. By then, they themselves are starting to fall into that category.

    As the Scottish referendum demonstrated, the young are not the only ones that have been disenfranchised by politics. Many of their elders have been, too, and came back to vote on the one thing they really wanted to have a say on. A single issue.

    My own conclusion is that party politics in general is failing. We need politicians and Government that are not bogged-down in party dogma and ideology and are more concerned with doing the right thing, rather than what their party deems is the right thing.

    • There is no doubt that the latter point stands.

      But fundamentally young people are much less inclined to vote than older.

      Furthermore, fundamentally the giveaways go to older people not younger. There is no guarantee those giveaways will still be in place when they get there.

      Worst of all, unemployment overall is roughly where if was eight years ago. Yet over-50 unemployment has been slashed; youth unemployment has soared.

      Youth in particular is getting a raw deal.

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