I usually pay attention to comments made in reference to my columns. My last column on disinterest by young persons in voting at the upcoming elections evoked several comments. One of keen interest was the critique that I didn’t present much by way of solutions to the challenge of getting young persons to vote.
I definitely agree and the fact is that I sought to present what I saw as a concern among our younger generation and an attitude of not having faith in the democratic system and especially in voting.
Perhaps there are a plethora of suggestions of how this attitude can be looked at, but I suspect there will be no consensus on solutions.
Nonetheless, I chose to research the subject further and found that the challenge of getting the younger generation out to vote is not only an issue here, but in several democracies across the globe.
One observation is that generally younger folks over decades have traditionally not voted or had an interest in politics. That interest tended to increase as these young people got older and understood more the importance of the political process in their lives. It would be the exception rather than the rule for young people to be deeply attached to the political dynamics of the country they resided in. By and large young people are concerned about what is of direct interest to them.
What I raised in my column last week went beyond youthful disinterest in politics. Instead I highlighted what I felt was a growing trend to disassociate all together from politics, voting and participation in the process because of a feeling that it just didn’t make any sense and all politicians were the same. Also the increasing mindset among some Barbadians that one’s vote must be worth something in a direct tangible way, monetary or otherwise.
In fact one other comment pointed out that it was not only young people who shared these opinions of disinterest. So it could very well be that the non-voting attitude in the 18 to 25 age group is transferring to the over 30 age groups also, and the trend could progress to later years if individuals lose all interest. The United Kingdom (UK), as an example, has seen sharp declines among voters in the 18-25 and the 25-34 age groups.
What I found interesting from my research is the following analysis in the UK and I suspect a similar situation maybe happening here:
“Whether you realize it or not, young people are not disengaged from politics. We are talking politics with our friends, when we are together, online and on social media platforms. We have opinions about the country and the world we live in, and we know what we’d like to see done about it. We are getting involved in campaigns, whether they’re for gender equality, affordable housing or criminal justice reform. We are creating social enterprises to tackle the issues facing our communities and wider society. Youth activism over the past two years has shown that there is an appetite for social change among our generation.
“The issue isn’t that we are not active or do not care about politics, the issue is that not much of this passion or activism translates into votes or registration. This is due to a general lack of faith in the political system and our elected officials’ inability to deliver solutions on society’s most pressing issues.
“Young people are one of the groups least likely to be registered and vote, and the consequences of this is evident. If we hold the belief that politics is about supply and demand, the argument that politicians will only supply where there is a demand would explain why issues facing young citizens rank low on the list of political priorities. Only 43 per cent of 18 to 24 year olds turned out to vote at the last general election.”
So back to the critique of my last column, how do we get young people to vote? If they are engaged at some level in the issues of direct importance to them then that is where the politicians have to be, and not only for window dressing purposes. They have to be there with them with all their heart and soul. Young people tend to think that their vote doesn’t make a difference, so what do we do? We explain to them in the language that they speak and through the mediums that they get information how important their vote is to them not to the political aspirant, but to them as voters.
Politicians have to learn to connect with the young voters. Young voters in this generation will rally around a cause. They will buy into a message. Young people tend to be idealistic so they will look for leaders who offer a revolutionary message of change and hope for the future, not the same old.
As I did my reading on this subject I came across several good suggestions as to how the younger people can be better engaged in the process and understand the importance of their vote.
One suggestion was similar to what I mentioned last week in relation to my now 18-year-old son who will have the opportunity to vote for the first time this year. He and his friends, of the same age range, were basically of the opinion that voting was a waste of time. If young people barely understand the structure of government, the legislative process, or the voting system, then how can they be expected to engage with it?
We are failing to properly educate future voters. If young people lack confidence in their knowledge and understanding, then they are less likely to engage – hence the attitude of, ‘I don’t know enough to vote’ or ‘It doesn’t make any sense’.
Helping young people to understand how government and the democratic system works is important and this must come from our school system at the earliest levels to improve trust in the system.
Many young people feel let down by politicians, who they view as distant and un-relatable or untrustworthy.When they do engage politically – whether formally or informally (by protesting against their broken promises) – they usually find themselves ignored. Then, in a vicious circle, they stop turning out, they are ignored and so on. Younger people need to feel they are listened to and respected by politicians.
Trending today is that young people prefer issue-based politics to party politics. Yet there are hardly any ideological politicians left and the common cry is that politicians don’t understand the issues of the young people and are not addressing them.
Bernie Sanders, at 75 years of age, effectively did that in the Democratic nominee’s bid in the US elections of 2016. Sanders connected with younger voters and capitalized on that age group over his rival Hillary Clinton.
In the past the youth arms of the political parties have been the breeding grounds for future political leaders and politicians. We now see trending that political aspirants come from a wide range of backgrounds and in many cases are unseasoned in politics, but understand how to connect with certain demographics in the voting pool. What they can offer after that is another discussion but the fact that they are stirring things up is interesting.