I truly believe that my generation and the one following me (often referred to as Millennial and Gen Z) are among the most political generations to exist. Whenever we see a cause to support, we’re among the most vocal supporters of it.
When Greta Thunberg visited Bristol, most of the people I saw attending were under the age of 40. When our cities stood in solidarity with African-Americans protesting the brutal deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor caused by the police, these two young generations made up the majority of the crowd. Online, we young people give our money to Crowd Funding campaigns to pay for someone’s healthcare and the more politically minded of us are vocal about various political issues on social media platforms.
However, when it comes to the ballot box, we seem to be absent.
In the 2019 General Election, only 47% of 18-24 year olds, 55% of 25-34 year olds and 54% of 35-44 year olds voted. Now, while this isn’t a bad turn out, it’s not great either. Every age group older then 44 had turnouts higher then 60%, with a 75% turnout in the 65+ age group. Stereotypically, youth groups don’t tend to vote in local elections, this fact is backed up by data from the Electoral Commission in 2017 and a subsequent report confirms as much. The low youth-vote turnout contributes to the average turnout in local elections being as low as 30%.
This raises the question: why don’t we vote?
Many experts say that if young people voted in as high numbers as our parents and grandparents, we’d swing elections to the left, but we don’t. Personally, I think it’s because none of the main political parties speak to the young contingent of the population. The Conservatives are openly thinking of removing the basic rights that this group enjoy, Labour just keep making unambitious promises, and young people are highly unlikely to vote for the Liberal Democrats after they helped saddle us with debt that we’ll never be able to pay off. Really the party that young people seem to identify the most with is the Green Party, however, they’ve yet to make any kind of impact outside of Brighton Pavilion, coming 5th at the last election according to vote share.
In fact, I daresay most of us would love to vote for the Green Party. But, due to Britain’s archaic ‘First Past The Post’ (FPTP) system, Millennials and the Gen Z population often feel that our votes don’t have as much impact as they could. So if we want to make out vote matter, we have to pick one the two larger parties. But these main parties consistently fail to address the problems facing people aged between 18 and 30. Most of us rent accommodation, have lower paid jobs and are unlikely to retire until we’re 70.
Threats to the LGBTQ+ community (like the blatant trans-phobia still present in today’s society), institutionalised racism, the threat of our worker’s rights being removed, and the big existential crisis of Global Warming are all issues we care passionately about but they are all problems politicians seem to be dragging their feet to solve. And it appears that every time a young person brings these issues up, there is always someone asking, “why on earth would people so young get political?”
Take global warming. Greta Thunberg is currently the de facto leader of the youth voice, simply because she is so prominent and outspoken. She is currently 18 years old and was even younger when she entered the public eye. Despite this, she is doing more to raise awareness and hold governments accountable than the elected politicians themselves. In spite of all the good she does, every time she speaks publicly the media bully her. Their question is why on earth is someone so young doing this, and the tone is demeaning.
I direct you to every Daily Mail article which questions her motivation or refers to her “evil handlers”. And it’s not just the Mail. The New Spitting Image TV show spent more time in its opening two episodes dismissing her arguments then it did criticising or poking fun at our Prime Minister or Leader of the Opposition. It’s disparaging when you feel like you’re being talked down to all the time.
So, in answer to the question “why don’t the youth vote in the same numbers as our elders”’?
Well… why on earth should we?
All the problems facing us and the ones we care about the most – higher rent with lower wages, astronomical house prices, student debt we’ll never pay off, LGBTQ+ issues being put on the back burner and outright revoked, crippling mental health issues, an unfair voting system and Global Warming – are all dismissed. Or we’re told “it’ll sort itself out” or the issue is talked about but with very little, if any, actions.
None of the big parties are willing to meet us halfway or are even willing to talk to us about these issues and how they can be addressed. As I said, I believe we are one of the most political generations ever, so I think we would absolutely throw our support behind a candidate or party who introduces solutions to the problems we care about. An example is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who many young people look up to as the future of the US Democratic Party. At the last election, she directly appealed to the youth vote by publicising a website (IWillVote.com) that made it easier to check if you were registered, to find out where you could vote and much else regarding the election.
She was eloquent, funny and (most importantly) didn’t patronise the 400,000 people watching with phrases like Hilary Clinton’s “Pokemon Go to the Polls”. Thanks to her passion and efforts, people decided to register at the site and throw their support behind her because she was saying things that young people feel haven’t been said for a long time. She isn’t even afraid to stand up to her own party when they make mistakes. She listened to our generation’s problems and worries and the young people in the US voted for her consistently.
I honestly do think the same could happen here in the UK. Once a party is willing to address the problems the younger generation cares about, they’ll gain our enthusiastic support.
I can only hope they don’t wait for the loss of the next election to realise this.