By Alex Cupples
3.3 million of us will be eligible to vote in a British general election for the first time on 7 May 2015. According to YouGov research, more than two million will not.
The 41% of 18-21 year olds who will cast a vote rises to 75% amongst the over-60s. This is not only damaging to the health of our democracy but it also has a significant impact on how politicians approach election strategies.
When young people were asked to cite the reasons they did not vote in 2010, 27% said they did not believe it would make any difference, 25% said it was because they believed the candidates were all the same, 18% cited not having enough information and 17% did not feel that the candidates stood for what they believed in.
There is undoubtedly change taking place in the British political system. Thursday’s debate featured three women, albeit all from minority parties, who demonstrated a noticeable shift from the old ‘Westminster politics’. It was these three who argued against the current policy of austerity backed by the other parties. Only Natalie Bennett and Nicola Sturgeon believe that education is a right not a privilege.
However, this doesn’t seem to be enough to change the attitudes of young people with a low turnout still expected in May.
Memories from the student fees debacle 5 years ago have undoubtedly impacted the student outlook on politics. Labour’s promise to lower the fees to £6000 is only a token which will still leave students with an intimidating £18,000 of debt. Even at top universities, like Durham, with a high proportion of privileged students the outlook for the future is bleak. Without parental support almost half of us may never be able to buy our own homes. The job market is lacklustre with many young people being expected to work for free.
Problems facing young people, such as student loans, renting rights and gateways into employment are not covered in as much depth as other issues, leaving young people to wonder what they are voting for. But when young people do not vote, politicians do not have incentive to create policies that appeal to them.
It is our generation who will have to deal with the effects of climate change, poverty and mass depletion of resources. Without viable options amongst the main parties for tackling these issues it is understandable that people don’t think their vote will count.
This election may attract more young people who are voting not for their own beliefs but out of fear of Ukip. YouGov polling shows that when asked if Ukip is a racist party, 54 per cent of 18-24s say it is, compared with just 30 per cent of over-60s. With many young people concerned about the rise of Ukip it may inspire them to vote to ensure that they do not win seats.
Bite the Ballot is a party-neutral movement which is encouraging young people to vote and initiating political education and discussion. They claim to have helped 500’000 people register to vote for this election. Organisations like this which are increasing awareness of the importance of voting are important to empower young people but this is not enough without adjustments in the political system.
The turnout for the Scottish independence referendum was 84.6% and engaged young people as well as old in politics. Whilst there is little chance for a turnout this high at the general election, with about 60% expected, it is a sign that politics is changing and young people are getting more involved in making the decision.
If you haven’t registered to vote yet, you can do so here at www.gov.uk/register-to-vote.