Monday, August 25, 2014

On political engagement and the youth vote

The topic of low voter turnout among young people has been discussed heavily both online and offline. As a result, many people have assumed that the young people demonstrate a very high level of political apathy, possibly due to a greater perception of corruption among governments or the sense that elected officials do not have their best interests at heart. However, this may not necessarily be the case.

Instead, as Jay McGregor of TechRadar points out, it's quite possible that “young folks are more political than ever – just not formally.” They are not making it out to the polls to exercise their electoral right, but a good number of them are taking interest in politics and do want to change the way that government is run. 

A prominent example is Occupy Wall Street, which spurred on several more Occupy movements all around the world. Those groups were led largely by younger demographics following a genuine desire to have their concerns heard by the masses at large. They may have felt that the entire government institution only really had the best interest of the so-called 1% at heart and they were not working for the 99%. 

Young people all around the world also participate in a great number of political protests, as evidenced by the events in places like the Gaza Strip and in Egypt. These are areas with great political turmoil, but we are seeing a surging interest among youth in more stable areas as well. 

A common denominator in all the cases in which young citizens are participating actively in politics, is technology. In the Lok Sabha Elections in India earlier this year, the youth played a major role and social media was the source of great support for the Bharatiya Janata Party. Several grassroots movements, like MumbaiVotes and iForIndia, were also started and run by young people, once again leveraging the power of technology. 

Many youth are passionate about the needs of their country and about politics, but the challenge is to translate this passion into higher voter turnout among this demographic. It has been demonstrated that candidates that do focus on first-time voters can gain a loyal, lifetime following among those young people. And these young people are spending more time streaming videos online, reading blogs and participating in social media, so that's where the political candidates need to find common ground.

The electoral system itself needs to be updated so that it does not feel as archaic and outdated to the youth of today. They need to feel that the political system is relevant and modern, so the manner in which they cast a ballot must also feel equivalently relevant and modern. They make far less use of pen and paper in their everyday lives, so why would they fill out a paper ballot to cast a vote? It should offer the possibility to be electronic, easier and accessible.