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How To Engage Young People In Politics

29/11/2016 12:25
IakovKalinin via Getty Images

According to Ipsos Mori, in the 2015 General Election, only 43% of 18-24 years turned out to vote. The EU referendum had an even lower turnout according to The Independent at 36% (estimated) for 18-24 year olds; and statistics from the US election are yet to be confirmed but it wouldn't be outrageous to suppose that they will be lower than most other age demographics. However, anybody blaming young people for this are, I believe, sorely mistaken - it is not their fault that politicians are doing virtually nothing to engage young voters.

Young people are put off by politics left, right and centre, and it comes from various sources. The judgment and dismissive behaviour of older generations who don't believe that young people have had enough 'life-experience' to make an informed decision are one, and the mainstream media making it all appear so vulgar and confrontational could be another, but ultimately the responsibility lies at the door of politicians.

Yes, arguably politicians do try and engage with young people - I mean look at George Osborne trying to play basketball, or Justin Trudeau's dab, or Hillary Clinton's mannequin challenge, how could you not want to get up and vote when all these politicians are so relatable , hilarious and trendy? Thinking that this is a means to gain young voters is so far off the mark that it is seriously disconcerting, it is fundamentally embarrassing and cringe-worthy, so much so that it probably does the exact opposite of its intentions and pushes young voters away.

There are however extremely effective ways to answer to the question of how to get young people interested in politics. Firstly engage with them on a platform that they know - social media being one. Labour has done a very good job of expressing their message through social media; it's not the best way to reach the wider general public as it stands, but as a way of getting younger people to find out more about your party, it is quite effective.

However, there are still do's and do-nots involved. For instance, Jeremy Corbyn's snapchat is not going to be reaching out to anyone who doesn't already support him, and similarly, Theresa May's pitiful lack of Twitter followers means that she is engaging with nobody other than her current supporters.

US politicians seem to have much more success in this respect, both Clinton and Trump enjoy the benefits of social media as does Bernie Sanders - of course population size has to be accounted for but even with that their messages are accessed by massive numbers. What these characters do that their UK counterparts do not, is to actually present themselves as people and not just political droids (whether it's how they really are or how they actively try to portray themselves is a matter for another day).

Of course, it is in the British nature to be a little reserved, particularly in front of a large audience, but subtleties and witticisms are not easily conveyed through text. Trying to show some personality through social media will take UK politicians a long way in the arduous journey to become appealing to young people. It's not everything that needs to be done, but it would be far more interesting to read than the repetitive tripe written today, and as such it would get the young generation, at the very least, talking about politics and politicians themselves.

There is, however, one fundamental way of getting young people involved in politics, and it is simply to consider them when deciding on policy. Doing away with tuition fees, increasing apprenticeship opportunities, lowering the voting age to 16, capping car insurance for 18-25s, capping rent prices, relaxing drug laws. Ultimately, if politicians listened to young people, young people would support them. If politicians stopped patronising the younger generation and actively changed things to help them find their feet in this country, then they would enjoy much healthier turnout statistics for 18-25s.

Blaming young people for not going out and voting for someone who offers them absolutely nothing is totally misplaced frustration. Politicians need to get out to schools, colleges, universities, giving talks and answering questions; this shouldn't just happen around election time either. It is common sense to invest time in young people who will shortly come to voting age. At the very least, why ignore a massive demographic who could potentially help win your party power?

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