By Alex Campbell.
It is a constantly repeated mantra that ‘young people today’ in the UK and Europe are uninterested in politics. Voter turnout is falling rapidly and the youth vote in particular is in freefall.
This is backed up by statistical evidence. The British Election Study from 2013 notes that turnout is lower among young people relative to older age groups, and has been falling sharply in the context of falling overall turnout at General Elections. The Eurobarometer study “European Youth: Participation in Democratic Life” tells a similar story EU-wide, with 21% of young voters not voting in any political election at the local, regional or national level in 2013 out of choice, up from 16% in 2011.
One explanation goes that, as the new generation becomes more and more disassociated from the political process, so policy becomes less responsive to our interests, about unemployment, a living wage and affordable housing, not to mention the environment. So this belief that politics is un-relatable, unrewarding and useless becomes more ingrained, and turnout drops in a vicious perpetuating cycle. The fact that it is impossible to vote online in the UK just adds to the out-of-date and detached feel of contemporary politics.
It appears that anyone between the ages of 18-24 or under 30 (depending on your definition of ‘young person’) is doomed to a life of political disenfranchisement and consequent invisibility.
Yet, thankfully, there is more to the story. I would like to introduce the European Parliament, the directly elected body of the European Union, (populated with Ukippers after the 2014 election) which is far more concerned with its democratic legitimacy than our current government despite sharing the same problem of youth disengagement. The European Parliament is currently hosting its European Youth Event hearings. Since December last year, young people from all over Europe, including the UK, have been presenting their ideas for new initiatives to the Parliament on issues such as youth unemployment, the digital revolution and the environment. They are standing up for their interests and bringing fresh perspectives to the table. Contributing to the political process. Getting involved. This event brings the youth and decision makers together. It proves there are those who still believe in the democratic process and are politically active.
I am proud to say there remain some young people, including British young people, who do want to participate in democracy, to vote. The best way to help increase youth turnout is to make voting more accessible. That is where the ability to vote online comes in. Online voting will be step in the right direction towards engaging the digital generation. It will also make it easier for first-time voters to get smart about exactly what it is that they are voting for. To put it simply, accessible, online voting will help provide the much-needed involvement of young people.
Alex Campbell is a Law graduate from the University of Kent and has lived and worked in Brussels for 18 months.