THE BLOG

Why Have We Stopped Voting?

17/05/2016 14:25 | Updated 17 May 2016

Now and again you see articles popping up in the more conservative publications, blaming us (i.e. young people) for being too lazy to vote. Now, in the run-up to the EU referendum the so-called voter apathy is once again a hot topic. As a report by the Parliament helpfully points out, that only 51.7% of all eligible young adults voted in 2010, as opposed to over 70% of over-65s. I'm sure you don't need me to tell you this, since some of your friends (or even you yourself) have never voted or even signed up to vote. But is this all down to the can't be asked attitude? I'm not really convinced.

Having moved here from a pseudo-democracy that is Russia, I was originally surprised that people who have the ability to determine the direction of their government would choose not to exercise this right. Funnily enough, I never questioned my own lax attitude towards voting in the Russian elections (something I could easily do through the Embassy in London), convinced as I was that my vote doesn't matter anyway. But the more chance I got to talk with young people from different backgrounds after moving to London for uni, the more I realised that they felt just like I do. Far from being apolitical, young voters simply feel that the current political class does not share its concerns. As one participant of the London Riots wrote in the Guardian, young people are forced to look for alternative ways to make their voices heard.

Now, I'm not claiming that the political system in the UK is in any way similar to the Russian one (after all Dave can't compete with Putin when it comes to shirtless photos). Seriously though, even though our votes won't be put in the bin over here, do you think there is really much point in voting for a young Labour supporter in Windsor, for example? It seems to me that there isn't. The Electoral Reform Society blames the first-past-the-post system for turning off voters who feel they can't make a difference by voting. It's particularly true when it come to us, since in a lot of areas, especially in the countryside the vote is determined by the olde generation that tends to be more Conservative.

But is this really all there is to it? In the EU referendum 1 vote will mean 1 count, there's no constituencies to worry about. But we don't seem to care about it any more than we do about General Elections, quite possibly even less. The real reason, I think are the politicians themselves. They really don't seem to care about issues that matter most to us. As one of my friends put it "who cares whether Westminster or Brussels gets to make the decisions, all I want to know will my flight gets more expensive?" This is the case with UK politics more broadly. The politicians have either nothing to say to the young, or they want to increase our tuition fees so they could spend this money bombing Syria and supporting the NHS.

Don't get me wrong, the NHS is one of Britain's greatest assets but so are its universities! So why cut one and not the other? Bite the Ballot, an NGO that campaigns to increase the youth vote, has a simple answer: politicians only care about the views of people who can actually get them into power. So even talking about cuts to the NHS is akin to political, but tripling tuition fees did not stop the Conservatives getting reelected in 2015. It certainly doesn't help that most young people who do vote are from middle class backgrounds, so mummy and daddy will surely help them out with fees and living costs. More worryingly, the Brexit camp seems to be intentionally trying to turn young voters off. After all it makes sense, since we are more likely to vote Remain.

The bottom line is we aren't naturally lazy and shy of voting, look at the Scottish Independence Referendum the turnout was well into the 80s and more than 100,000 16-18 year olds registered to vote! The problem is nobody really wants to talk about issues that matter to us. And the only way to change this is to register and give voting a go. I really think we should stop our grandparents deciding our future.

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