At the last General Election in 2010, less than half of 18-24 year olds voted. We can speculate on why that is – indifference, ignorance? Neither paints young people in a very good light, but if they are baffled by where to put their vote, who can blame them? So much game-playing goes on between the parties year-round, but it is especially prevalent in the lead-up to the election. So much so that it distracts from the most important part- the policies.
For any young person approaching the political scene for the first time, they’ll likely have to wade through a load of calculated babble before they get the answers they’re looking for; while for many young people, the fact is that they aren’t going to do that. More and more, information is at our fingertips. The way people can communicate now is faster than it’s ever been. If there’s a hint that what a politician is really saying needs to be analysed like an A-level novel – young people don’t want to do that.
David Cameron has chosen not to take part in a TV debate with the other party leaders, unless the Green Party is also included. But there is more – he is the only main party leader who hasn’t taken part in an online Q&A session with young people, titled Leaders Live and hosted by Bite the Ballot. The Greens were included in this one – so what’s his excuse this time? He is too busy, apparently.
Young people use the internet more than any other age group. We’ll soon have a generation of young voters who will not remember life before the internet and there are so many ways the parties can use these online platforms to engage young people – Twitter, Facebook, YouTube.
It isn’t fair to say that these resources aren’t used in UK politics. The main parties and leaders all have social media profiles. But here’s an unscientific headcount: twenty-five of my British Facebook friends ‘like’ Barack Obama. Only three of them ‘like’ David Cameron – and that still makes him the most popular party leader in the UK among my Facebook friends. It goes without saying that a politician’s competence isn’t measured in Facebook likes. Nevertheless, if young people are more interested in what the president of the USA is up to than the Prime Minister of their own country, what does that tell us about politics in the UK?
Something is lacking; we can’t say that young people are indifferent. In the Scottish independence referendum, the online frenzy probably didn’t ripple down to Bristol in its fullest form. But up there, the online discussion was impossible to ignore. It was all over Twitter and Facebook – young people on both sides of the argument wanted to share their views. The enthusiasm and engagement was clear – and encouraging.
By failing to engage with young people, the parties are missing out on the influence this generation’s vote would wield. Unfortunately, rather than try to encourage young people to cast their vote, the parties put more effort into winning over the reliable voters, typically the over 65-year-olds. When young people take an interest in the debate, the issues that are most important to them and their futures are often marginalised. So they’re less likely to vote, and the circle goes on.
Young people might not even be aware that this is happening. Unsurprisingly, the parties are more interested in getting into office than keeping our democracy healthy and effective.
There’s now a campaign for the party leaders to participate in an online-only debate – the Digital Debate. The Greens are on the list, so keep a look-out for Mr Cameron’s RSVP.
By Leah Henderson