Lost in the Political Maze: why are young people NOT voting

The last time the public was voting in a general election was on Thursday 12th December 2019. The British public has since been turned upside down by quarantines, self-isolations, and the wars in Gaza and Ukraine are now making headlines daily. 

Meanwhile, young voters now were still grappling with pre-pubescent pimples and we had to flash our IDs just to buy scissors at their local Tesco’s.

Westminster has since become a cesspit of broken promises and scandals, and we feel deserted on all sides of a political landscape that is indifferent to our needs. But, according to the 2021 census, over three-quarters of us are concerned about causes like the cost-of-living crisis, so why are we failing to show up to the ballot box when we can vote?

Dr James Weinberg, senior lecturer of Political Science at The University of Sheffield, says it’s not surprising that young people feel overwhelmed and hopeless in our hyper-connected world. “Young people are definitely enthused, but they are also swamped by a barrage of grim news flashing across your screens daily, so why would you feel enthused about engaging from the outside, when inside it looks hopeless and stale?

“This bombardment of information can mean everything feels out of control – how can one person possibly make a dent in something as massive as the conflict in Gaza? Or protect trans rights? But politics is all about nurturing that passion, gathering your friends together to command change, and getting over the barriers social media is shoving your way, as well as voting.”

There’s no shortage of bad news in the media to ‘doom scroll’ and leave voters apprehensive and unenthused about the state of our world. A study published in the Journal of Health Communication suggests that this explosion of information across our screens can lead to greater levels of stress and anxiety. 

But Sally Gimson, an ex-Labour councillor in the Highgate ward of Camden Council, thinks this weakening turnout is because of the lack of policies streaming out of Westminster for us. “When I was young there was a feeling, that your life would eventually get better than your parents. However, nowadays there is so much less hope for young people because policies simply aren’t aimed at your future.

“But our ageing population combined with the decreasing amount of young people voting, means all politicians will continue to chase after the OAP’s vote, abandoning the young to fend and fight for themselves.”

In the last general election, around 70% of over 65-year-olds showed up at the polls, in comparison, just half of 18-to-24-year-olds bothered – a measly increase from the year previously. In the meantime, the ageing population is set to dominate over a quarter of the population by 2050, according to the World Health Organisation, leaving matters like green policies to collect dust.

Matteo Bergamini, the CEO of Shout Out UK, a London-based Political Education Organisation, says we aren’t just plain lazy when it comes to voting. “There’s a persistent myth that young people are feral youth that couldn’t care less about politics, but the truth is, they are fighting in an isolated system that doesn’t care about them.

Bergamini says the young voter turnout is ever dwindling because we are left to fend for ourselves when it comes to discovering the complexities of the political system, government policies like increasing the age of the NHS Health Check and the triple-lock pension are evident of this.

According to a survey by the British Youth Council, over two-fifths of young adults felt unprepared when it came for their time to vote. Pair that with the paltry fifth of schools teaching future voters about politics, as reported by a parliamentary group, and you’ve got a recipe for confusion.

Bergamini says: “The sad reality now is that young people as a generation need to rise up and show politicians that they want to actively learn about the system, and also that the issues you care about and are protesting about, like LGBTQ+ rights, are political issues.”

When it comes to the general election…

The very very first thing we all need to do is to make sure that we are registered to vote and educate ourselves on the simplicity of British politics.

But, Weinberg says the consistent flood of misinformation across the internet means it’s crucial for young voters to think critically about what is being spoon-fed to us, and to not only digest this information but also decipher what is correct.

Dodgy photos and clickbait headlines have left half of us encountering fake news daily, according to a survey by the University of Derby. And, when it comes to the general election, Weinberg says: “Try and diversify your consumption of news and obtain different points of view to challenge this. Because one of the big dilemmas we have today is that everyone acquires their news from social media, so you need to avoid the algorithm that isn’t always feeding you credible information.”

In the UK, over 70% of us rely on social media for our daily dose of information, whilst a mere 16% of us bother to pick up a newspaper. So although we are consistently fed information, it’s not always accurate. 

On the other hand, Gimson says diving into the party manifestos and digging into your local MP’s voting record, such as on websites like TheyWorkForYou, is a good starting point for young voters lost in the mayhem of a general election.

She says: “Manifestos are a small cog in a big political theatre that has been crafted to engage you as the voter. Your task is to dissect what resonates with your beliefs but remember you don’t have to completely agree with everything there.”

A manifesto is like a political party’s dating profile in the run up to a general election. It’s their chance to woo voters with a written declaration of promises and policies, hoping to get that swipe right from voters, and a chance to govern.

Gimson says: “Every generation seems to have its own excuses for not voting, in my day it was the nuclear bomb, but digesting small parts of the whirlwind of politics, like a manifesto, is a stepping stone to voting.”

Meanwhile, Bergamini says the most pivotal part of a young voter’s general election is being strategic. “Despite the presence of five political parties, our two-party system means the Labour Party and Conservative Party are locked in a fierce dance off for the majority of the vote, so check websites like Election Calculus to see if your seat is safe or not.”

“If your seat is marginal, meaning it could go to either of the two, it’s better to vote for one of them to keep out the one you like less. Think of it as voting for the lesser of two evils. But if your seat is safe, which means it always goes to the same party, cast your vote to any of the parties. Just remember your vote counts no matter what.”

Amidst the hustle and bustle of securing that first job, navigating university life, or taking our first steps on the career ladder, it’s easy to let politics slip down our list of priorities. But we know we care about the cost of living and war in Gaza, so maybe it’s time we voted to show politicians how we feel about this.

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