THE BLOG

2015, the Year That Young People Vote?

23/03/2015 17:31 GMT | Updated 23/05/2015 10:59 BST

With less than fifty days to go until the polls open, it is time for Britain's voters to deliberate over which box their trusty cross will go in on 7 May. Politicians of all colours are firing up the turbo chargers, as it's pedal to the metal from here to the finish line, in what is arguably the most crucial general election this century, if not for a generation. If this metaphorical nonsense isn't enough to inspire you to get thinking political, then I don't know what else will. It is precisely this kind of talk, often heard on daytime political TV shows, that gets only those with an ingrained passion and enjoyment of the political goings on excited, whereas others groan and reach for the remote. It certainly doesn't arouse any democratic motivation in the youngest sector of the electorate, those aged 18-24.

This age demographic is a lost cause when it comes to engaging in our most basic democratic right. According to Ipsos MORI, just 44% of the age group in question turned out to vote in the 2010 election, whereas for those aged 65 and above it was 76%. The data certainly points to a generational divide in the importance put on voting, but doesn't discount the fact that apathy to the political system is something that is rife across all ages. Some may argue that the older generation see voting as more of a moral obligation, in order to give consent to the democratic process, even if a vote has no hope of being reflected in who wins power. With younger people however, it seems that such apathy has eclipsed any motivation to get out there and participate in something so simple yet significant.

There are plenty of reasons why young people have little interest in voting, which most notably in my opinion, is that they cannot relate to the politicians that make up Westminster. It's not that there is a lack of issues that affect young people; perhaps it's just that they don't feel that the majority of MPs uphold their interests to the degree they would like.

This general lack of trust between young people and those who represent them is not helped by what has become an accepted and almost expected trend to be unconcerned with the political system. That is not to say that you have to agree with the current state of British democracy, but by not participating no change can be enacted. Russell Brand, an influential figure amongst young people, has publicly spoken about his history of never once voting, and his intentions not to start doing so. This sends out a thoroughly toxic message, and I like to think that most young people can take it for what it's worth, and nothing else. Indeed it was shown six months ago at the Scottish Independence Referendum that young people certainly do care about their futures and the issues that affect them. Record numbers turned out to cast their votes and this was no doubt helped by the fact that 16- and 17-yea-olds were allowed to participate. This highlights that if young people believe they CAN have an impact, they WILL vote.

There are no simple and easy solutions to the problem of young people not voting. Some would suggest implementing political education into schools, although that brings all the arguments about biased teaching. Others may suggest enforcing mandatory voting, but that is out of the question. Something needs to be done to encourage young people to take the initiative to vote, not drag them kicking and screaming all the way to the polling booths.

The 2015 general election looks like one that should be able to improve on the miserable turn out statistics of 2010, after all, a lot has happened in five years. For a start, there is more on offer than the LibLabCon triad of parliamentary influence, with parties such as The Green Party and Ukip being contenders for holding the balance of power. This election is the first in which social media is being used to its utmost advantage, not just by political parties, but by those encouraging us to vote. Campaign group Bite The Ballot are encouraging young people to register to vote, and held a National Voter Registration Day in February, which mainly garnered support and publicity through the means of social media. Additionally, although the opportunity was not too popular in my student household, I was delighted as a first time voter to see a representative from our local council knock on the door offering us the chance to register to vote. It is innovative strategies such as these, whether it is knocking on doors or through Twitter and Facebook that are the way forward.

We will have to wait and see if May's election can be an example of how young people's voting intentions can be turned around. I have to admit that it is my fascination with the unpredictable political climate we are in that compels me to discuss such a topic, 15-year-old me didn't even know what a manifesto was back in 2010. However that just shows anyone can have a dabble in the theatre of politics, but when it comes down to the reality of democracy we must all get out there and vote to strengthen it, not undermine it.