How do we re-engage young people in the electoral process?

by Amanda Ramsay

Being politically active should be exciting and challenging, something to relish and throw your energies into. But with voter turnout declining sharply and only about 1% of the British population currently card-holding members of political parties, engaging young people in politics and the electoral process has never been more important.

So how do we do it?

Reducing the voting age to 16 could be a good place to start. To rehearse the well-worn argument, if you’re old enough to pay tax, marry, have children and fight and die for your country in the armed forces, surely you are old enough to vote about who runs the country?

Studies have shown that online and text voting would increase voter engagement in young people. Fraud is a huge concern with this route, but something has to change with the times. Would Saturday voting instead of the traditional Thursday help?

Raising turnout in UK elections amongst young people, maybe helped by having more young candidates to choose from. Bristol Labour party is fielding a range of young candidates at the next round of local government elections in May, including Mhari Threlfall, new student enterprise advisor at UWE (University of West of England), who tells me:

“I feel a duty to support young people. It is a bleak picture for younger people, with the average age of a councillor being 60 and rising, now more than ever it is important that young people have a voice, especially at a local level.”

Participation from younger voters might be enhanced with electronic voting options but to really improve engagement, better local and national voter registration is critical.

Traditionally, most first time voters are registered to vote by their parents or guardians, when they register the household. The Electoral Registration and Administration Bill will change all that, introducing individual electoral registration (IER). However, without direct action to encourage the young to register, apathy may be the biggest vote winner, if young people don’t bother to fill out the forms required by local councils.

The registration process for young people needs to be driven by enthusiastic young ambassadors, who can lead by example. An Operation Black Vote style campaign could galvanise a step-change in registration among young people.

Yet, on its own, a renewed registration drive will not be sufficient.

Education is clearly vital. I was taught civics at school from the age of 13. A rare thing, I believe. Indeed, Lucy Rigby PPC for Lincoln, who wants to see voting age lowered to 16 and that schools should be responsible for registering each pupil to vote, says: “Schools should engage in a more rigorous, compulsory and examinable programme of civic education from Years 7-11.

Education has to be the starting point in combating disengagement and disillusionment.

One young woman told me she always votes because she wants to secure a mortgage one day. This lack of understanding and grasp of the system needs to be tackled, starting with showing young people tangible reasons to vote.

“Politics is about shaping the world,” says Gwyneth Brain, a twenty-something former council candidate in south Bristol, who sums-up the situation nicely.

“From the big things like equality or the NHS to things like roads and the price of pasties, it’s the reason we don’t have to pay to see a doctor, but poor Americans have to fork out the earth to see do the same and some have died as a result. Politics shapes the world we live in, that we will work, marry, have children and retire in. We have to have a voice in what that world will be.”

Youth unemployment is now one in six and likely to increase over the next 12-18 months, says David Kern, the chief economist at the British Chambers of Commerce, who also points out that those in work are often only earning part-time money.

Labour is making the right noises to show the young they are being thought about and made a priority. Ed Miliband announced this year a “real jobs guarantee” to provide six months’ work for those aged 18 to 24 who had been jobless for a year which would be funded by a bankers’ bonus tax.

By contrast the Tory-Lib Dem Coalition cut the educational maintenance allowance (EMA) which children from low income families could claim. Many students and parents may never forgive Lib Dems for going back on their much touted 2010 general election campaign pledge to abolish tuition fees, and then notoriously sat in the government that let the fees be charged at £9,000 a year.

If young people aren’t encouraged to register to vote and don’t engage, then X Factor is going to stay the biggest vote winner for the under 30’s and no one will hear their concerns and ideas, first hand.

Amanda Ramsay is vice-chair of Pragmatic Radicalism, a former councillor and development officer of Bristol South Labour party

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9 Responses to “How do we re-engage young people in the electoral process?”

  1. Nick says:

    Forget the young, its that politicians have stuck two fingers up to the electorate.

    That’s all the way up the tree. From jumped up councilors deciding on planning without taking into account objections, overruling them, to MPs acting as dictators.

    There should be no laws passed without the public having the final say.

    That can be done cheaply, at 20 million a year on top of the 100 million voter registration cost. Given the electorate have the say, we don’t need the Lords. That’s 150 million a year off the cost of government. A net saving over over 600 million over a parliamentary term.

    The downside for people like you who want to spend spend spend, is that given the say the electorate will vote for no tax increases and more likely tax cuts.

    You then have to square the desire you have to impose you views on others (dictate) with their decision to say bugger off.

    Hence there will be no change.

    Politicians won’t allow democracy. See the EU vote for examples.

  2. Harry Barnes says:

    If voting was introduced at 16, young people would be required to register as “attainers” whilst they were 15. This could be organised via their schools and would achieve almost 100% registration. A pro-active electoral registration sysem which traced the movement of such young people as they grew older, would then help to maintain high registration levels. At the moment only 56% of the 19 plus age group are registered. Around the initial registration period, schools could be encouraged to involve 15 year olds in investigations into the ways democracy functioned, including activities such as mock elections.

  3. Henrik says:

    I’d be more interested in raising the voting age to 30 or maybe 50, frankly, looking at the state of our streets on a Saturday night.

    Point of information, you’re not old enough to die for your country until you’re 18. You can enlist before then, but not be deployed on active service.

  4. rallan says:

    A 16 yr old is a child. The law only allows what nature makes inevitable.

    Labour hates true democracy. This just is a despicable attrmpt to get more dodgy Labour votes by preyimg on the immaturity of children. Did mass immigration, rigged boundaries and semi legal postal vote fraud not add enought dodgy votes for Labour? Have you no decency or shame?

  5. john p Reid says:

    rallan tha’ts libelous, Labour never indulged in semi legal vote fraud, as for Boundaries Laoubr started to make the boundaries less favorable to them where it was Judged the 2005 Leection had it been re fought in 2010 Laobur would have had a 25 Less majority, regarding Immigration more people leave the U.K every year than come in, and in General elections lots of Ecenomic migrants can’t vote here,
    regarding the 16 year old not being able to vote that’s your opinion, I was 16 in 1990 and was anti the tores becuase the Poll tax, nhs reforms, come the 92 Election when I voted I was miffed labour lost, but Now I realise Kinnock hadn’t done neough to disatnce himself from Scargill and the Loony left

  6. Henrik says:

    @john p Reid: Mate, honestly, could you please proof-read your postings before making them, I find them very hard to read and understand.

  7. Rob the cripple says:

    John show us the proof after that truly shocking statement that more leave the UK then come in.

    Being an elderly Socialist I do not mind immigration so long as you build the homes for them, and then remember the people already on the waiting list.

    Some of your statements are shocking mate.

  8. Rallan says:

    John Reid

    Labour introduced postal voting without proper regulation, leading to widespread blatant voting fraud in immigrant communities for years (in Labours favour) to which Labour turned a dispicable blind eye.

    The unprecedented vast amount of immigration encouraged during the recent Labour government is a matter of record (for which you will be judged for generations). Labour have sought to establish Labour Party sympathetic fast breeding foreign communities in England and “rub our noses in diversity”. The much smaller exodus of British voters have lost all hope for a country that Labour and the Tories have ruined (but you’ve looked after yourselves, eh?).

    Boundary rigging is a statement of fact. Labour has nothing but contempt for public opinion and the democratic will. Bigoted woman, anyone? The idea that Labour suddenly discovered a sense of democratic duty is laughable given the resistance to boundary reviews. But lets be honest, that a lot to do with preserving jobs for MPs on all side ls of the house, isn’t it? And to hell with the country and democracy.

    So if you think you’d win a liable case, come ahead. I think the case would get some serious publicity.

  9. Rallan says:

    Whoops. I made so many typos! The worst is “liable” when I meant “libel”.

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