Youthful political apathy: The biggest threat of our time?
Photograph: Flickr / Chris Beckett
In the 2010 general elections, voter turnout was of 65%. Among the younger demographic (ages 18-24) it was only 44%. These statistics might suggest there is a general apathy when it comes to voting about politics, especially among the youth. However, the Scottish Referendum proves otherwise, as general voter turnout was 84.5% and the turnout amongst under-18s that were given the right to vote for the first time was around 80%. This epitomises how people are indeed interested in voting when they believe that their vote will count and make a difference. The problem with modern politics lies here; making a difference.
The influence of the charismatic comedian-turned-activist Russell Brand may have a role in the current wave of apathy amongst young voters. Brand has infamously encouraged people not to vote during his interview with Jeremy Paxman (and reiterated so many other times) as he sees British politics to be run be elitists, and no matter who you vote for it will make no difference. Instead, he advocates for other forms of expressing political ideas, such as protesting and boycotting.
It would be wrong to say that young people are not politically engaged, as many marches, protests and social media campaigns are organised by the youthful demographic. Students of Warwick are a perfect example of how we are politically active. Thousands of students mobilised in December to stand in solidarity with the students who were harassed by the police in response to a free-education protest. Nevertheless, these actions have surprisingly little overall influence in the long term.
Even though the older generations seldom take part in the aforementioned forms of political activism, they are very well represented by those in power, especially when those in power are the Tories. Seeing as how people aged 65+ make up only 16.6% of the UK population, it might seem surprising that their voices are generally heard more than those aged 18-34, who make up 20% of the population. The key difference is voter turnout, which averages around 74% among those aged 55 or higher, as opposed to a miserable 50% turnout rate of those aged 18-34. Hence, it is understandable that the current Conservative government prioritises pensions over jobseeker's allowance, which is mainly used by young people, as they are in power largely thanks to those getting their pensions or those who soon will be. Thus, the most pragmatic way for young people to be heard, to make an actual difference and cause change is to actually stand up and vote.
Yet another problem arises when it comes to who to vote for however. The media tends to give more importance to party leaders rather than actual party policies as of late. People might feel disinclined to vote for Labour because Ed Milliband is constantly bashed for his clumsiness and many associate themselves with the menacing UKIP leader Nigel Farage, just because he appears in pictures holding a pint. Us young folk are too busy, either finishing off the essay due yesterday, circling before Pop or just procrastinating by complaining about how much we have to do. We don't have time to read through party manifestos and see what party policies are actually about, and instead we prefer to vote according to who our parents, friends or pets voted for, or more likely, according to which party leader we like the most. This however may not always reflect the best decision, as ultimately the party (and its leader) follow certain sets of policies and an ideology, and that is what affects our future, not Ed Milliband's eating habits.
A fantastic website which can help us in the long process of picking our favourite candidates is voteforpolicies.org. This website basically provides you with sets of policies on all the main issues (NHS, immigration, Europe etc.) without telling you which party they belong to. After completing the survey, you are shown which parties the policies you chose in fact belong to. This in turn exposes the ideology you actually agree with most, without prior biases. All the policies provided are straight out of the websites of the parties, so you can check them yourself. The website also provides a nifty info-graphic of what policies those in your constituency preferred. I strongly suggest for everyone to check out the service to be able to be fully aware of what you are voting for. Through the force of rational voting, Warwick will truly be able to live up to the Guardian's claims of being Britain's most powerful students. And as the website's slogan puts it – vote for policies, not personalities.