Let’s make it easier for young people to vote!

You can lead a young person to the polling station but you still can't make them vote: How do we get our youth to exercise their democratic right? [Image: theday.co.uk]

You can lead a young person to the polling station but you still can’t make them vote: How do we get our youth to exercise their democratic right? [Image: theday.co.uk]

Have you noticed how the mainstream media have glossed over the fact that so few people voted in the European elections?

Only about one-third of the electorate bothered to shift their backsides from the sofa to the polling station, and only a quarter of those gave UKIP its resounding (if you believe the BBC) victory.

That’s just nine per cent of the electorate!

The other nine-tenths of the country – including both voters and non-voters – didn’t want UKIP to win, and it is delusional of that party’s supporters to say the whole country got behind them.

The problem is, far too many people didn’t get behind anybody else.

My cousin’s daughter, at 18, voted for the first time last week. She said she found it extremely difficult to form any definite opinion on which party to support because it was almost impossible to find reliable information.

You see, she’s not stupid; she wasn’t going to take the parties at face value. She wanted independent validation of their claims, and that’s hard to find.

Obviously the mainstream media are a lost cause. They all have their favourites and it is impossible to get any useful policy information from them. If you were watching the BBC, you would know that UKIP want Britain out of Europe and an end to what party leaders see as indescriminate immigration.

What did Auntie say about Conservative policies, other than that they were offering an in/out referendum in 2017 if they won a general election next year, which is nothing to do with the vote we’ve just had? What was said about Labour? What was said about the Liberal Democrats?

I’ve got no idea, and I spend my life commenting on politics! What chance do these teens have?

The problem is that there simply isn’t a resource that can provide easy answers for young people. If they want it on a website, it would have to feature not only listings of what the parties say they’ll do, but information on the philosophies behind those plans – so readers can understand the proposed direction of travel. It would have to carry detailed information on each candidate, in each constituency and ward, to enable our young people to judge the character of the people they were being asked to trust.

It would be unwieldy and it would be controversial. Candidates would be accusing it of bias within five minutes of any such website going up.

My cousin-once-removed thought that local councils should have information on their websites but I pointed out that they would only be allowed to publish material from the parties themselves, without any kind of commentary at all; as such it would be nothing more than propaganda.

So what’s the answer?

That’s not a rhetorical question; it’s a call for suggestions.

Schools don’t teach politics in any meaningful way. Citizenship was supposed to have gone onto the curriculum years ago but this writer hasn’t seen any increase in political awareness amongst the young. Political representatives aren’t allowed to discuss politics with students unless members of other parties are also present, which means they can each obstruct the others from doing so.

Courses on politics at further or higher education institutions really are biased according to the lecturers’ own beliefs – look at Oxford’s neoliberal PPE course.

Young people don’t have time to cut through all of the babble.

So most of them walk away.

How do we get them back – or do we simply not bother, and watch as democracy is quietly euthanised within the next generation?

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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16 thoughts on “Let’s make it easier for young people to vote!

  1. Joanna

    I was soaking wet and freezing cold when I staggered into the polling station but I got there and did it. It was pointed out me that people who can but do not vote, do not have any right to complain about anything, except the weather!

  2. Tasha Tyler-Harris

    I’m 25 and I’ve voted at every opportunity I’ve had, and also actively encouraged my friends to do the same, even if it’s just going in and spoiling their ballots, rather than being democratically inactive. The low voter turnout among the under 30s is why so many measures have been pushed through that utterly destroy any hope for our generation: because politicians know that most of us won’t’ve voted for them (or their opposition) anyway, so our opinions don’t matter to them, at least in comparison to the older generations’.

  3. david pearce

    excellent question Mike, and not one to which there will ever be an easy answer. Any media source will always be politically biased (impossible not to be seeing as they will be run by humans that have their own agenda). Meanwhile it can be extremely hard to find out information on parties::
    We have the mainstream parties redacting manifestos(UKIP) and online information that may be embarrassing (Tories)
    We have smaller parties (with less funding) being denied media time (Greens,TUSC etc)
    We have parties not funded by millionaires who can’t afford mass marketing
    We have a mass populace disenfranchised with politics as a whole.
    Then we have those who refuse to engage with a system, they see as broken, who would rather wait and wait for the famous revolution.
    We also all know about dirty political campaigning of smears. (Strangely UKIP managed to convince some that all their negative press was pure spin and smear in the latest electoral round).
    So information needs to get out there (needs to be easy to access and be balanced). The information needs to be simplified of jargon and clearly explained and rebutted.
    tbh I can’t see a way to do this. Especially as you’d also need to drive people to the information in the first place, and the politically apathetic wouldn’t necessarily have the drive to do this.

  4. Pete

    I think we should do what the Australians do,if you do not vote you get fined.

    If people do not want to vote for anyone,just void the ballot paper.Its those that cannot be bothered,but complain anyway about whoever is in power.

    When you think of what our forefathers did to get us the vote,they must be turning in their graves.

    Has for the young,I had many a discussion with a youngster about politics,but most said my Dad said I should vote for x.And that they would.

    Politics should be taught in schools,but it would be hard for teachers to give a balanced view,because most would want the kids to see their view.But I thing eighteen is old enough to begin voting in my opinion.Has many do believe politicians at face value.They have not had enough hard knocks to become cynical,like most of us.

    1. Mike Sivier

      But what’s the point of forcing someone to go and take part in the process on pain of losing money? What does that achieve apart from making people resent the system more than ever?

      Personally I like the idea of a ‘None of the above’ box on the ballot paper because you can use it for many reasons – not just because you don’t like any of the candidates but possibly because they haven’t given you enough information to make an informed choice.

      I agree with you about most of the rest (obviously I haven’t spoken to the same youngsters).

      1. Pete

        Voter apathy is the highest among the poorest and ill educated sectors of society.The more the income some members of society enjoy, and the higher the educational qualifications they may have gained, the more likely it is that he or she will vote.For what they believe is in it for them.

        Since a lot of the poor do not vote, the political parties do not create policies for them, which leads to the poor and often poorly educated being all but ignored.

        By making the most disenfranchised vote, the major political parties may be forced to take notice of them and this would reduce political parties ignoring the less affluent in society.

        The Left never went away,they just lapsed into apathy.I meet a lot of left wingers that don’t vote.The rich by and large will vote Tory,Ukip etc,because they want to keep all,or most of their money,and don’t want to pay taxes,hence offshore tax havens.

        UKIP is on the rise because we have a right winged biased media.A lot of people believe it must be true because they read it in the Sun or the Mail.Plus they think,beer swilling Nige,is one of them.

        Voting by compulsion may seem wrong as by way of choice,but may well help those who are forced to vote.

  5. Pingback: Let’s make it easier for young people to vote! | Britain Isn't Eating

  6. john ingamells

    I fear that the concept of the necessity to vote and the sacrifices made by so many is probably within the school and college settings. Though i am afraid at the potential for politicians to lie and deceive in these areas in order to win votes. The BBC and our popular press are gradually driving the extreme anti europe anti immigrant into our homes. Even when you consider how little is actually told to the voter about the work and structures of the EU and the EU commissions, deliberately i am sure, the objective seems to attempt to restrict information and create apathy. Our tory press rely on the level of ‘straight bananas’ and lies about immigrants and what they milk from a system. When it comes down to it, there do seem a specific age group who vote and who are most vociferous about the lies about how much the EU influences and drains us, without emphasising what we gain from it. Oddly this age group seems to be the closest one to the realities of intolerance of fascism and the victims and targeting of certain groups. The reality in the age of the internet and access to information, must be that we need to motivate the young and future voters into the value of voting and the commitment to society for each individual. We need to encourage by showing that the country is ours and belongs to the future voter. If we do not stand up when our society is removed by the wealthy and privileged we will lose libraries, educational parity or at least what we have now, our hospitals will belong to private shareholders and companies! The question does not allow an easy answer but we cannot allow the BBC, media or integrity of many politicians, to be the ones to encourage the young to vote and vote because they are interested and committed, not because they get fined or are forced to in some way.

  7. Joanna

    s forced to vote, I would probably be more depressed than I already am, I would resent everything and most importantly it would criminalise a lot of young voters, before they have even started their adult lives, people with criminal records suffer a lot more job discrimination, because of what they have done. Imagine if your 18yr old, couldn’t get a job because they have a record, which lasts for 7 years before it is spent. Destroying chances would truly be inhuman! and for what? A cross on a piece of paper?

  8. bookmanwales

    Firstly I think it is wrong to blame the young for their failure to vote. This is an issue once again of education.
    To say politics cannot be taught by teachers due to bias is one the most ignorant reasons I have heard,
    History can reliably show how each party has fared over the years, what laws they implemented, what welfare system they supported, what education system they established etc. This can then be extended to maths by showing the financial effects of such policies thus introducing “real maths and analysis” into the curriculum and the use of statistics instead of useless algebra for example.

    Older people are similarly ignorant, despite their years of experience in the real world they stick to “habit” or “hate the other party” voting without considering the consequences. This is not ignorance really but laziness, and something harder to overcome.

    Forcing people to vote has not, as far as I know, led to any increase anywhere in political awareness but merely creates a further criminal offence of which we already have too many.

    Local and European elections are notorious for low turnout and this year has probably not been too far from other years, the fact that UKIP did so well is the only thing that sets these elections apart.

  9. PendanticGeek

    OK, you want something that isn’t biased as re point of reference for young people. 1 Page per party to state their philosophy in their own words, set in a matrix of what the other parties have to say about that philosophy.
    Links to manifestos and FAQs answered by the parties and critiqued by the others.
    Previous manifesto points shown for governments with a simple symbolic display that shows what promises were kept and which weren’t.
    A page where a simple e-bay style positive negative feedback is displayed for each MP but no written reviews. This could also show their voting record with some kind of graphical representation of where it puts them on the political spectrum.

  10. jaypot2012

    I’m at a loss for helping the young unless politics becomes part of the education system from the age of 15 and upwards. Reading past manifestos, looking into the history and researching would help, but would Commandant Gove let them teach such things should the tories get back in?
    Hear in Scotland the schools and colleges have all been having debates and researching the Independence Referendum and that’s been good to hear about. I am hoping that parents views will not stop these youngsters from voting the way they want to – it disgusts me that anyone’s views are thrust upon someone.
    I’m 55 and at the age of 18 was told to vote Labour by my father and mother – I did, but because I wanted to not because I had been told to. When I voted we got outside and they both quizzed me on how I had voted and I told them that it was none of their business, and that I was an adult with a mind of my own!
    I believe in a one man one vote system – after all, its a vote for a party, not these constituencies that can be large or very small areas.
    And another way to educate youngsters is for the parents to get off their erses and vote – it’s not just apathy, it’s pure bloody laziness.

    1. Mike Sivier

      In the UK, when you vote, you are in fact voting for your constituency representative. The party to which they belong is a major consideration, but you are voting for the person, not the party.

      Good point about parents. My own always impressed into me the importance of voting but never told me what to do with mine. By the time I was old enough, I was perfectly aware of what was going on anyway.

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