How to Actually Boost Youth Turnout

This piece by our co-founder Carl Sacklen was originally published here.

Charlotte Gill recently wrote a piece calling for a millennial party to represent young people’s interests. It was a fascinating article that rightly brought to light the disconnect between politicians and young people. I must say, though, I took issue with the idea that young people should form their own party. I believe the apathy that young people exhibit runs deeper than Ms Gill makes it seem. In my view, a millennial party would do very little to increase millennial engagement in politics. It may make headlines for a few days, but a party for just young people doesn’t mean young people will suddenly come rushing.

That’s because many young people are apathetic to politics in general. For me, the problem lies not in the fact that there isn’t a party for young people, but that the current parties don’t have much of an interest – beyond soundbite – to address issues such as salaries and housing that affect young people. But why should they? Young people don’t take an interest in politics and as a result, they are not a demographic parties have to court for votes. It’s a vicious cycle that leads to further disengagement.

The problem lies in the fact that participation in politics is not a millennial priority. I can’t speak for everyone, but I know young people who aren’t all that interested in politics because it feels distant and dated. I quite enjoy the quirks of Parliamentary procedure but then again, I love politics. For someone who hasn’t been brought up to take the same interest, the Westminster bubble must appear to be a strange place indeed.

That’s where the solution lies – politics’ image. If you fix the image, millennials may be drawn to politics. To fix that image, however, young people need to become a powerful demographic who politicians chase for votes. It’s no surprise that pensions are in the news – older people consistently have a higher turnout and can be pivotal in an election.

Yes, we’re back where we started. To incentivise the improvement of politics’ image you need to get young people to vote, which seemingly will only happen if the image of politics is improved. One solution – and one that I don’t agree with – is a millennial party. The reason I take issue with that solution is that the root cause of apathy – the distant Westminster bubble – remains intact. Mhari Black, the youngest MP, threatened to leave recently because of her experiences in Parliament. A millennial party – assuming they got enough votes – would just be a bunch of young people feeling the same way as Ms Black. Therefore, no real change has been made.

Other solutions to getting young people to vote that I have more sympathy for include the following. Firstly, I am interested in an opt-out electoral register. This means the process of registering to vote is replaced with one to opt-out from voting. The goal would be to normalise participation in democracy. A second interesting course of action would be more political education in schools. The BBC recently filmed two ordinary people getting toured around Westminster by the likes of Ian Duncan Smith and Jeremy Corbyn and both interviewees spoke of how they wish they’d been more educated about politics so it didn’t seem so distant. In my view, political and citizenship education would encourage young people to make a habit of voting that they clearly currently lack.

Millennials aren’t interested in politics because it’s not in their interest. Forming a millennial party doesn’t tackle the core issue of disengagement. To do so, politics’ tainted image must be addressed. Young people need to realise the privilege of being able to participate in a democracy. That means going to the ballot boxes and casting a vote for the party that best represents their individual interests. For that to happen, they need to prove they’re a formidable electoral force.

Image rights: secretlondon123 @ Flickr


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