Young people and politics
This project will engage 45 young people aged 18-25 years in the positive practice of politics in the US through hands on experience in supporting the respective 2016 Presidential campaigns. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to learn about politics not through reading about the campaigns in America but by being involved in them. The election of a new American President is an epochal event and it offers the richest opportunities for a group of young British people to learn the art, the science and the craft of politics in the crucible of global democracy.
The project will challenge the stereotypical view that young people in Britain are increasingly disengaged from public affairs and political practice. This view has some foundation as, among other things, there is international evidence that electoral turnout rates amongst young people are significantly lower in the UK than among other advanced democracies. This project seeks to connect young people to the practice of politics in the US, providing them with a positive and memorable life experience. The collective experience of this group of young people will, on their return, be used to revive a broader interest in democracy amongst young people in the UK.
Various governments over the last few years have made a number of attempts to halt the disengagement of young people from politics and democracy and yet the downward trend in young people’s participation has not been halted.
A 2012 research study1 comparing results over the past ten years, shows there is some hope for engaging young people more actively in politics. That study reveals that, when it comes to today‘s generation of young people, they are not as apathetic as conventional wisdom would lead us to believe. Instead, a picture emerges of young people who are keen to play a more active role in the political and democratic process, but who are turned-off by politicians and the way that the political parties operate in the UK.
We believe that the 45forthe45th project will help reconnect and re-ignite young people’s interest in politics and the democratic process. Through active and direct involvement in such a critical and high profile Presidential election, the young people involved will become enthused and energised about politics and democracy. They will then become strong advocates and ambassadors for democratic involvement in the UK.
- Young People and Politics in Britain Henn & Foard Nottingham Trent University ESRC July 2012
Interest in politics
Being interested in politics is a prerequisite for any form of political participation as well as being an active citizen. Sadly, a 2014 Office for National Statistics Survey2 showed that less than one-third of young people have an interest in politics, compared with about one-half of those aged over 55 years. Almost one-half of all 16-24 year olds said they had no interest in politics at all.
No interest in politics by age 2011-12.
- ONS Measuring National Well-Being – Governance Survey 2014
However, very many young people are actively engaged in civic, community or public affairs on subjects and topics that they personally might not describe as political. And these same young people are often actively involved in trying to improve aspects of the society in which they live. What is curious is that the personal energy they use to try to change things does not often translate into active participation in the broader democratic or political process (such as voting in general, local and european elections).
So while young people are not disaffected from political issues, by comparison with nearly all other age groups who are eligible to vote, young people do not turn out to vote in the same proportions as others. Their engagement, in greater numbers, in the democratic process is crucial to the future health of our democracy.
Voting as a civic duty
Conventionally young people are encouraged to participate in elections so that they might fulfil some generalised moral or civic duty to vote. And, for some young people this call to civic duty does resonate. Just under 4 in 10 (39%) of those aged 18 to 24 agreed or strongly agreed that they would seriously be neglecting their duty as a citizen if they didn’t vote compared with over 8 in 10 (80%) of those aged 65 and over. Conversely, 34% of young people aged 18 to 24 disagreed or strongly disagreed that they would seriously be neglecting their duty as a citizen if they didn’t vote compared to
10% of those aged 65 and over.
Voting as a civic duty by age, 2011–12
The chart below shows the overall turnout in the recent UK Parliamentary elections and the estimated turnout of young people aged 18-24 years. It shows a clear lower profile of turnout amongst young people.
Turnout in UK General elections 1987-2015
Patterns of relatively low turnout amongst young people have actually worsened in the UK over the past two decades. This has concerning implications for the future of democratic engagement. There appears to be no significant increase in turnout among young people, with 18-24s almost half as likely to vote as those aged 65% (43% vs 66%).
International comparisons on young peoples’ turnout rates
Proportion of young people voting at a political election 2013
- Respondents aged 15 to 30 were asked ‘During the last 3 years, did you vote in any political election at the local, regional or national level? If you were, at that time, not eligible to vote, please say so’. In all member states of the EU the eligible voting age is 18 and over apart from Austria where it is 16 and over.
In 20 of the EU Member States over half of young people had voted in a political election, with the highest proportion in Malta (76%), Belgium (73%) and Italy (71%) (Figure 3). This compares with the EU average of 56%. The UK had the lowest proportion of young people voting in a political election at 38%.
OECD comparison on turnout rates
That young voters have a low turnout during elections is not a new phenomenon. However, young people are now even less likely to vote than young people over a generation ago. Recent data suggests that the problem in the UK is worse than in other comparable developed countries. A recent OECD study showed that the percentage point difference in voting rates between 55+ year olds and 16-35 year olds in the UK is 38 per cent, much higher than any other country in the study (see Figure below). More encouragingly, and at the other end of the scale, the Netherlands only has a difference of 1.2 per cent (between young people and those over 55 years) with the USA having an age related difference of 14.4 per cent. These figures point to the real challenge in Britain to engage young people in the electoral process.
Percentage point difference in voting rates between those 55+ years old and those 16-35 years old
Source: Society at a Glance 2011, OECD. Derived from: International Institute forDemocracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA), Module 2 and 3 of the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES)
The ESRC/Nottingham Trent University research provides a picture of young people that accept the current political system as legitimate but who feel powerless to influence change. This is accompanied by a large gap in their faith in political parties and in professional politicians.
One of the reasons we are so keen about giving young people a chance to experience the American Presidential campaign system is the existence of dynamic local community campaigning in the USA. By contrast, in the recent Parliamentary general election campaign in the UK, none of the major political parties actually seemed to be talking directly to people locally engaging them in close discussion. Staged and mediated campaigns make for difficult engagement.
In America, the primary system for candidate selection and the subsequent Presidential campaigns involve considerable numbers of Town Hall and community meetings. Our aim is to enable 45 young people to become closely involved in US Presidential campaigns, to learn from that experience and to bring their enthusiasm and learning back to the UK.
If you are interested in finding out more about these issues right now please take a look at these web sites
British Youth Council
Bite the Ballot
National Union of Students
Rock the Vote
Operation Black Vote
The Prince’s Trust