How can we get more young people to be more politically active?

If this problem is not solved, we face the danger of loosing an entire generation of voters.

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By Laurence Scott

Young people like me are the future of this country – like it or not. We need to help shape our future but how can we increase political activity among young people?

In the most recent Democratic Audit, it was found that democracy and political participation is in “terminal decline” as we already know. In 2010, the total turnout of 18 – 24 year olds was an inexcusable 44% (See graph below).


Many of my fellow young people are apathetic towards politics; they feel like they are not listened too, find politics boring and uninspiring, and have difficulty understanding politics.

It should not and does not have to be like this – for the sake of this country and our democracy.

There are very few who disagree that we desperately need a period of national renewal akin to the one after the Second World War. Young people need to be involved in the debate, decisions and destiny of this; we are the ones who will have to live with the decisions being taken now. Currently, not enough of us young people are politically active.

I have 3 ideas that I believe would help to increase engagement and activity among young people.

  1. Better education about politics throughout our schooling

At the moment there is very little in the way of education and encouragement for young people to develop opinions, be those opinions about politics or anything else. Children should be taught how to debate and take part in debates in primary school.

Debates increase confidence, help develop the critical-thinking skills that Universities are crying out for and help to develop literacy skills. I know that, if I had the chance to have debates as part of the national curriculum at primary school, I would have become involved in politics sooner and more intensely.

2. The voting age needs to be lowered to 16-years-old

It has been debated for a long time – let’s get on with it and lower the voting age to 16-years-old. If you are able to take your GCSEs at 16 – which require maturity and decision-making – then why are you not able to vote at 16?


See also:

Ken stays ahead as Boris doubles-down on blaming young people for youth unemployment 23 Jan 2012

Boris Johnson’s words show he doesn’t care about young people 20 Jan 2012

2012: The year ahead for young people 7 Jan 2012


Better education about politics is a waste of time if, by the time people leave school, they do not have the chance to participate in politics fully and fairly.

3. Young people need to be treated better and more fairly by society

Contrary to what the press would like everyone to believe, the vast majority of young people are not drug-dealing lazy thieves. That is just inaccurate. The 18-year-old diver Tom Daley at the Olympics last week is just one example of a young person doing something positive – and there are many more. This problem is a wider problem in society that must be grappled with.

I am sure I speak on behalf of all young people when I say that we need not be victimized. If young people felt that they were an important part of society, more would want to shape it. Instead, many young people reject politics because it is part of the society that victimizes them, not listens to them.

Those are just 3 ideas that might help. If this problem is not solved, we face the danger of loosing an entire generation of voters.


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20 Responses to “How can we get more young people to be more politically active?”

  1. Thomas Coles

    The only rational political action by the young at this point is to imitate those in Tottenham.

  2. blarg1987

    I partially agree wuith your comments, however I don’t think lowering the voting age to 16 will help, as all political parties will do is say vote for us and we will lower the smoking and drinking age as a bribe to young people.
    Education yes but also I think people need to be more aware of the other political parties then the big three, such as greens, socilist paerty etc, and shown the value of tactical voting i.e. voting for a party that best represents their values, but if tehy do not get in, the party that may get in may appease those voters if a alrge enough majority.
    I think LFF can also help by putting in comments from all left wing parties showing their policies etc and allowing young people to have more information.

    I admit though I sometimes find with some young people their is a carrot and stck, carrot being the abovee and stick being when someone complains the goverment is treating them poorly etc I ask did they vote and when they reply no I ask them then what right do they have to complain, it can lead to a realisation and so motivation for them to go to the ballot box next time if not to change things at least to vote for a party.

  3. Jim

    Every time I sit on public transport and listen to young people I simply marvel at their grasp of the important issues of the day. Just the other night, a group of them on the 270 bus from Wandsworth to Tooting were discussing the previous edition of Newsnight and whether fiscal stimulus really was the answer. One of their group wanted to show off the new phone he’d bought, but the others told him to put it away as they were about to discuss the future of the Eurozone.

    But then, we shouldn’t be surprised, exam results get better and better every year. The only possible explanation is that our young people are simply much more intelligent than previous generations and we should reflect this by lowering the voting age. Preferably to 13.

  4. Patrick

    There’s an inconsistency in your argument. if you’re going to lower the voting age to 16 because of evidence of ‘maturity and decision-making’ then make 16 the age of legal responsibility, including amongst other things: the right to take on debt and be pursued by creditors, declared a bankrupt, the right to be sued, the obligation to be tried for criminal offences as an adult and named in newspapers, to be persued for child support, and all the other unpleasant things that go along with being an adult.

    You can’t pick and choose the things that you think you have the maturity to decide: either you’re able to make the mature decisions of an adult, or you aren’t. In effect what you are advocating is lowering the legal age of responsibility to 16.

  5. Newsbot9

    Give them a party of the left to vote for, rather than just paternalist centralists and paternalist right wingers.

    Kids get enough paternalism from their parents, what you’re suggesting will just lead to “lower voting rates”. Changing the voting system to PR is a lot more important, too,

  6. blarg1987

    I partially agree with yur comments but I think people should be smarter then that, instead of penalising the lib dems as a whole people should penalise those individuals that voted for certain plicies, some lib dems voted agaiinst tuition fee increases and against other conservative policies so we best not throw the baby out with the bath water otherwise it could lead to those seats with fairly left wing lib dems becomming conservative.

  7. Newsbot9

    I completely disagree. We have a cabinet government, which is collectively responsible for it’s policies…unless that collective responsibility is formally suspended.

    Other coalitions, in the past, did this…but this Government has not. The LibDems, as a party, are very much to blame and are risking throwing liberalism as a whole out with the LibDems.

  8. blarg1987

    Then surely the best option is to penalise those politicians that approved conservative policies by voting for them. That way when the party takes a battering it will be a clear indication of the direction the party should head i.e. more to the left. If you batter everyone indiscriminately then the party will have no idea which direction it should go which would be far more dangerous as some could argue the party should be more right wing.

  9. Newsbot9

    It’s not “indiscriminate”. The LibDems are going down. The party is seen as having betrayed many of the people it enticed into voting for it, and many of it’s MP’s broke a signed pledge.

    It’s purely a right wing party as it stands…and it’s dead, Jim. If it split back into it’s two constituant parties, it’d be another thing, but the fact is your support – I’m going to call it apologia given the LibDems are responsible for social cleansing and vicious assaults on the poor – is at this point making you someone who as left winger I personally dislike.

    You certainly have no business trying to claim being off the left while supporting the LibDem party in Westminster!

    We were dangerously close to a three-party system, and Clegg threw it away. We need proper voting reform, and he screwed it up…he’s a good Tory.

  10. Josiah

    I know it’s a technicality, but you do realise lowering the voting age to 16 will reduce voter turnout (as a percentage). But yes, would still (slightly) boost participation. The article seems to ignore really fundamental points about our politics – tuition fee betrayals, the fact that youth are less likely to join unions (a traditional route into politics), the fact that few parties have serious politcies aimed at young people or recruitment drives amongst the young, lack of serious online engagement by parties – e.g. Facebook and Twitter.

  11. blarg1987

    @Newsbot9:disqus You are wrong about my political views, I agree the Lib Dems deserve a hammering at the election but froma neutral standpoint it is very short sighted to hammer those MP’s who voted againt the increase in tuition fees, the coalition agreement and the policies that this goverment have advocated all that will happen in most cases will be to let the tories into those seats which could be the difference between them being in opposition or in power. I accept it is a small number of MP’s but if it means they will be the corner stone to make the Lib Dems more left wing then is that not a good idea?

  12. Samuel Watson

    Only one of the ideas here is an actual implementable policy. And I don’t think that lowering the voting age to 16 will galvanize any young people to vote. The same things which cause the general apathy towards politics and politicians will remain. Very little policy is directed at young people and the policy that is is generally negative (cuts, raises to tuition fees). Tory rhetoric would have you believe that we ‘deserve’ this for our previous overspending which young people did not benefit from. What is the point in voting if the outcome appears to be the same? [I am a young person and I voted lib dem and now I have higher tuition fees, go figure]

  13. Newsbot9

    Ah, you’re more right wing than I thought then.

    It’s “short sighed” to hammer liars who broke a signed pledge? That’s an apologia. And no, what’s a good idea is the eradication of the LibDems.

    That way, certain people might be persuaded to form a left-wing party.

  14. Newsbot9

    The Pirates, Greens, Plaid Cymru and the SNP are geographically or ideologically limited.

    We need a broad-based, British-wide party of the left.

  15. jim jepps

    I think it’s worth saying that at no point in the twentieth century (or 21st) was there a time when young people were more likely to vote than their elders. It’s actually not surprising that as people grow older they become more likely to take an interest in “official” politics and go to the polling station.

    It’s also true that with less commitments, no children and more free time (if students for example) young people are more able to get involved with non-party politics – like anti-war marches – even though, as a group, they’re less interested in the machinery of politics.

    In terms of the long term decline in activism and involvement (something I do think can be reversed) I think one of the major barriers to young people getting active isn’t the lack of “young people” orientated organisations and structures but simply that political organisations have declined so it’s just more difficult to join a group and get started. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen but if you’re a shy, not very confident teenager if there isn’t a local branch or campaign group to join you’re just really unlikely to start one yourself.

    In short – getting more young people involved in politics is actually the same problem as getting all people, no matter what age, involved in politics. I know from my own experience that I’d never have been involved politically if there hadn’t been more experienced people I could hook up with and lean on when I first started getting active.

  16. blarg1987

    @Newsbot9:disqus – Please re read what I have said carefully, as either what I have said is being misunderstood or you are misunderstanding my point.
    Can another commentator please read what has been said and give their own opinion as people are getting their wires crossed here and I know I aint right wing :s.

  17. treborc

    Once upon a time Unions may well have been a way into Politics it’s not been like this since 1990’s it’s now a career position the right university and the right contacts, and that may well be the problem with politics.

  18. Newsbot9

    Then why are you still with the LibDems? Sorry, but there’s absolutely no way you’ll convince me that someone who still supports their parliamentary party has anything to do with the left, as things stand.

  19. Quin

    Apathetic youth is a pervasive problem in Western democracies, the United States even more so than Great Britain. The lack of participation is clearly unacceptable if a government is to be truly representative. I think the possible solutions are very interesting, and even if they are not implemented, considering possibilities is the first step forward.
    Along with ideas presented here, another possible solution is compulsory voting. A system in which eligible voters are fined for not voting has proven very successful in Australia.
    No matter what is done, it is a necessity to fix this disturbing trend.

  20. whomightyoube

    Simple; the House of Lords should be replaced with a chamber that has no party politicians but hasrepresentatives of the people. These representatives would be proxy voters for people who vote for them. There would be no constituencies; candidates would stand country wide. Candidates cast the votes of all the people who vote for them on issues presented to the house, checking the house of commons in the same way that the House of Lords does now. For example, if a candidate got 250, 000 votes, then they would cast 250,000 votes as they saw fit. This would mean that voters would always have someone who represented their views. Rather than a limited choice of three or four party lines, there would be the same number of combinations of viewpoints as members of the house. Effectively every government decision would be subject to the will of the people, the result being very close to that achieved by a referendum, but without the great expense and time taken by an actual referendum. It would be relatively easy to use an online questionnaire to find the candidate who most closely matched your views. The candidates with the top support would sit in the house. Those with lower support could vote remotely or could nominate a house member to vote on their behalf, and on behalf of their supporters. If your representative voted against your wishes, simple, next time vote for someone else.

    The Labour Party is proposing an elected “US style senate” to replace the HOL. This will not increase public interest in politics one bit. The US House of Representatives is no better model. It is time for something completely different.

    This new house should not have executive powers, but should just check government powers. The government should also have the support of the majority of voters. That is to say, it should win any head to head vote with rival political parties. The people have a right not to be governed by a party that does not have the support of the majority of voters. That is not to say that it requires to have majority first choice support.

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