Published on January 27th, 2014 |
by Owain Mortimer
Voter Apathy: A Lazy Revolution?
When it comes to voting, the youth of Britain have always lagged behind the rest of the electorate in terms of turnout. When I have asked them what they think of voting, my friends have always replied “there is no point, politicians are all the same”. I always tell them that if they don’t vote then they don’t have the right to complain about the mess the country is usually in (ignoring the fact that politicians are usually quite hard to like). If you don’t vote how will you ever know that it won’t make a difference? It is our prerogative to take an interest in politics as, whether you believe it or not, it does affect all of us directly. The energy you use and the roads you drive on can all be affected by the policies of the political parties vying for power. The view that voter-apathy is a type of anti-politics is a fallacy. If we do not take an interest and use our vote, we cannot expect to sit back and have everything we want handed to us in the next Treasury Budget. As Abraham Lincoln said “Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.” (Abraham Lincoln)1. It might turn out that a lot of young people must have badly blistered posteriors.
According to Parliaments’ own website, voter turn out between the ages of 18-24 has been lower than any other age bracket in the last 12 General Elections. Research shows that the last time the 18-24 age bracket had a higher turnout than another age-group was in 19642. This may have had something to do with the cultural agenda at the time when politics was briefly considered cool amongst the long-haired, flare-wearing youth of Britain.
When people have tried to understand why young people tend not to vote in elections, four possible reasons have been given for the fall in youth voter turnout:
- General Apathy – this is a total lack of knowledge or interest in politics.
- Alienation – this can refer to people who feel resentment to the failures of politicians to improve their personal situation.
- Indifference – “What’s the point” syndrome. This is when voters see the main political parties as so similar that the result of the election would make no difference to them.
- Rational Abstention – electors who are informed but calculate their vote would make no difference so withhold from casting one. 3
In my experiences campaigning in my local community, these reasons have all been given to me by people I have asked “Do you vote, and if so who do you normally vote for?” It is normally, greeted by the same response unfortunately: “Oh I don’t vote, I don’t understand any of that stuff” or “it makes no difference”. Like my friends, the wider public usually only care about specific issues such as immigration, and don’t engage with or understand the idea of political ideology as a whole. Maybe this is the future? A la Carte politics: where everyone can pick and choose their favourite policies and vote for them via twitter? Although it may sound ridiculous, if you look at it in more detail it could be something political parties could use. With the rise of social media it is easier for politicians to interact with and communicate ideas directly to young people. And maybe social media can help young people feel included and allow them to access information and become engaged with politics.
Research has shown that local issues motivate young people more than abstract ideas. Maybe it isn’t entirely young people’s fault? In poor areas, voter apathy has grown due to social and economic exclusion; young people feel like they have been abandoned by the establishment, especially the current government as their cuts are disproportionately affecting young people. But the same research also shows that low turnout from youth voters in general elections is due to a lack of engagement with party politics, and politicians more specifically, rather than the ideas being debated. Politicians need to do more. There is a need for candidates to make more of an effort to include young people and focus on their issues. As previously mentioned, social media gives candidates the opportunity to be more responsive to young people’s views and increase youth participation and they should embrace its power 4. After all, young people will be ruling the country one day, maybe, if they can shake off their apathy. Russell Brand recently called on people not to vote in protest at the political system, although in my opinion his views are misguided, the underlying sentiment is intriguing. Is this the right tactic? Is it a tactic at all? At the very least it has got young people talking about politics, the next step is to get them to understand the importance of voting so they can influence decisions.
It is important to remember that elections are the most important institution of democracy in fulfilling its main purpose of matching public policy and popular opinion. After all, politicians are elected to serve us! If less than half of the electorate vote, the popular preferences becomes distorted and doesn’t truly and fairly reflect the publics’ opinion. So it always pays to vote. Well, not literally, but maybe that’s an idea for the political parties to get people to vote for them in the next election. It might increase turnout. The political process in Britain needs to be re-jigged to truly reflect the needs of the voters, not the politicians. That being said, the electorate needs to do its bit and get involved, as it is our future on the line.
1 Abraham Lincoln.
3 Budge, I. et al. 2004. The New British Politics.
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