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Published on February 24th, 2014 | by Owain Mortimer
Image © Wikicommons

Young people are becoming detached from the political institution of voting.

Democracy: Down with the Kids

Why do young people not vote?

I’m going to expand on my last blog on youth voter apathy, and look in more depth at the possible causes and remedies to this problem.

Why should young people vote?

I believe it is very important to use your right to vote, even if it’s to spoil the ballot or vote for the Lib Dems.

A report from the Institute of Public Policy Research think-tank (IPPR) even goes as far as suggesting that young people should be forced to vote in the first election in which they are eligible to vote. The Labour Party has been considering the proposals, as well as the idea of lowering the voting age limit from 18 to 16. The same report from the IPPR found that the UK has one of the largest differences in voter turnout between young and old people in Europe. Their figures on 2013 local council elections show that the estimated turnout for the 18-24 year old category was only 32%, whereas turnout for the over 65 category was 72%. If this trend transfers itself to general elections it could have a serious detrimental effect on young people’s lives.

Unequal turnout is dangerous as it gives older and more affluent people (who are more likely to vote) a disproportionate influence. This contributes to the view of young people that politics does not represent their views and that there is no point in voting.

Could lowering the voting age make a difference to democracy? Its proponents argue that it would force politicians to place more emphasis on acquiring the vote of young people like never before, giving the democratic process in Britain the shot in the arm it so sorely needs at the moment.

But would lowering the voting age make any difference? If 18-24 year olds aren’t voting at the minute, then why would 16-18 year olds? One possible positive side effect of lowering the voting age could be that the youngest group of voters would see positive changes being made, and realize that their vote is important after all. If the government is going to focus energy on attracting the votes of 16+ year olds, then maybe it is worth voting? Plus, nobody wants to be shown up by a spotty, awkward pip-squeak!

This could be the chance for a new generation to get involved in politics, and give them a real responsibility to engage with the political process, helping to make British policies really representative of the population. This may be the case, but as Emma Goldman, the famous Russian born anarchist said, “If voting changed anything, then they’d make it illegal”. Maybe all young people are anarchists now? I say, don’t believe her! We can make a difference if we engage with the political process.

One argument that I would make from a practical standpoint of getting young people to vote would be to tell them that every decision made is going to affect you at some point in the future. When laws and policies are made, they may be in place for a long time, they may not, but no matter how long they are there, you will be affected by them. To put it kindly, things aren’t going to affect older voters for as long as you. You are the people who are going to have to live with any decisions made, so you might as well make sure they represent your views as much as you can. If you don’t vote, don’t complain.

Lack of confidence?

Do young people have a lack of confidence when it comes to voting? A lot of people I have spoken to seem to think there is some big dark secret to politics, that there is some secret knowledge to be gained from some political encyclopedia somewhere, or that you can only dare talk about politics if you have studied it in university. Although I would like to say those who have studied politics are much more intelligent and amazing, and that only they have the right to vote based on this incredible knowledge they possess, this just isn’t the case. Everyone has the right to vote for whatever reasons they want.

All it requires is to look at what the political parties are offering and to see if that is what would serve your views best. You don’t need to understand the ‘alternative voting system’ or the ‘Barnett formula’ to know who you want to vote for. Nobody should feel intimidated by intellectuals like myself. This lack of confidence is normal and very human. Nobody wants to say something to their friends in the pub and have them say back: “What are you talking about? That’s not how it works” etc. But if there was a bit more of an effort by politicians and political parties to express things in a more relatable way (such as political ideas, and how certain policies would affect people), it could help empower young people and let them see the importance of engaging with politics.

Lack of knowledge/information? One thing that can be said for the internet and social media, is that it is great for expressing, debating and perfecting ideas. The best bit about this is that this process can happen between elected officials and the public in real time, via twitter and Facebook. It is easier now to engage in politics than it ever has been. But if the ideas and language used isn’t right, then there is still a problem. Maybe young people see politics as something ‘grown ups’ or boring old people talk about? More should be done to introduce teenagers and young teenagers to political ideas, to familiarize them with ideas and give them the confidence to talk about it. It is my view that politics and philosophy should be taught in schools more widely than it is now. These subjects give people the ability to weigh up both sides of an argument and to make measured decisions. This is why the internet is a great resource and weapon when it comes to politics. To politicians and the public. And of course it gives us things like Nyan Cat.

A Lack of Interest? Despite all of these reasons though, the buck still rests with the voters. If they don’t go out and actually vote, then an interest or knowledge in politics makes no difference. If young people genuinely don’t care, which I don’t think is the case, then it’s the role of politicians to make them see why they should. But maybe we should just take more notice of what young people say, after all, they will be running the place one day. Hopefully.


Please note that all blog posts do not represent the views of Catch21 but only of the individual writers. We also aim to be factually accurate and balanced across all content taken as a whole.

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About the Author

My name is Owain Mortimer. I studied Politics at Cardiff University and Globalization and Development at the University of Manchester. My main areas of interest are British politics (more specifically social and economic inclusion), and Environmental issues such as tackling climate change.

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