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Why are young people not voting?

By | Published November 12, 2016

This past year we have been rocked with recent electoral results. Young people in Britain between the ages of 18 and 29 have been witness to the exit of the UK from the European Union and now in what seems more devastating, the election of Donald Trump to the office of President. Yet time after time, we are not, as a demographic turning out to vote in important decisions, which will in reality will have a greater impact upon us than the generations of our parents or grandparents.

The referendum in June saw the British people vote to leave the EU. Although we will never know the exact figures, it is estimated that around 64% of 18-24 year olds voted in a decision that will impact future employment, freedom of movement in Europe and the economic prosperity of Britain. If we compare this over 65 year olds, around 90% turned out and voted. Our efforts seem half hearted at best. 18-24 year olds are on average are going to have to live with the subsequent result for 69 years. Furthermore a YouGov poll suggested that 75% of the young vote backed Remain, showing that if young voters had turned out to the polls, the referendum may have had an entirely different outcome.

Meanwhile in the US, Donald Trump who ran a campaign based on discrimination and hatred towards to minorities and women managed to win the highest office in the land. It has been estimated that around 23.7 million young people voted in the US election. That means 50% of 18-29 year olds did not vote. In a perhaps the most divisive election in recent history, with so much at stake, including Obamacare and the protection of women’s reproductive rights, it is baffling that millennials were not compelled to vote. A recent poll published suggested that if only millennials voted, Clinton would have a walked the Presidency. Does this not mean that after 19 months of relentless campaigning and election preparation, young people have only wasted an opportunity to have an influence upon the direction of their country?

So why do we not vote? For young British voters, it is still hard to discuss tuition fees, without feeling some sort of bitterness. In order to attend University we are left with a vast amount of debt, we are unlikely to own a home and we graduate into a time of great uncertainty with employment. There is also apathy surrounding millennials in both the US and UK, disillusionment with the political system for not representing their interests. There seems to be a real dissatisfaction with the political elite, Westminster and Washington are just too far removed from the struggle of everyday life. The length of US election is an extensive process, it can lead to loss of interest, and the vast amounts of political adverts and attacks that can only add to the lack of trust in a political process with a decade’s worth of political manoeuvring.

However we see in the candidacy of Bernie Sanders, vast amounts of young people, were convinced by his sincere values and policy that represented their needs. Sanders track record also highlighted someone who had been on the right side of every issue and was a trustworthy candidate. Clinton’s nomination to head the Democratic ticket, disenchanted many, it seemed once again, the Washington elite had won out. Although many voted Democrat, there was little enthusiasm to vote for Hilary as there had been for Bernie.

This is not to say that if 100% of young people had voted, in either elections, the result would have been any different. The point is we will now never know. But it is not all doom and gloom. Polls suggest that the majority of the 18-24 year old generation are a more liberal, educated group of people which means that future elections may have very different outcome to the ones we have seen in 2016. This perhaps is one one silver lining that emerges in a time of great uncertainty.