By Cissy Shen
Why don’t young voters get involved in the political process? A splash of ignorance, a dash of apathy and a whole lot of cynicism.
Us Gen-Ys just can’t seem to catch a break. We’re often branded as the lazy generation: people who are more materialistic and narcissistic than ever, all the while participating in questionable dance moves (i.e. twerking) and having an unhealthy interest in the Kardashians. Amongst other things, we’re also serial non-voters and most of us seem to tune out when we hear the word “politics” or any of its derivatives.
Which leads to a big question, why is that so?
Most people tend to attribute youth disengagement to ignorance or a lack of understanding of the importance of politics in the context of democracy. Whilst ignorance – like a tax – is inevitable, I would disagree that Gen Ys for the most part fall into this category. Aside from the focus of Civics and Citizenship in our education system, the digital age has made us more informed than ever, with greater access to knowledge and a variety of information at the touch of a finger. More importantly, social media has become an indispensable tool for interaction, giving young people a plethora of new ways to engage and participate in political discussions that effect change beyond local and national boundaries.
So if it’s not ignorance, maybe young people are just apathetic and disinterested in politics as a whole. But if recent history is anything to go by, I would argue this is far from the truth. In 2014, plans to deregulate higher education attracted thousands of protests from students across the nation who strongly opposed the proposal. In another context, many political commentators would agree that Obama’s victory in 2008 and again in 2012 was in part due to the strong youth vote. If anything, these events highlight how Gen Y still understands the importance of its contribution to the political process and are using a mixture of traditional activism and new media to make their voices heard on particular issues.
If young people for the most part aren’t ignorant and are still activists on their own terms, why does it seem that so many of them have switched off from politics? I believe the answer there is cynicism. Just as people lose faith in their new year’s resolutions, there is a lack of faith with the current political system and its ability to reflect the wishes of not only young adults but the wider public. In a country where leadership spills have become a national sport and voting is about choosing the “lesser of two evils”, young people are disinterested in politics because they, ironically, don’t see it serving their best interests. It’s this sense of disillusionment that proves to be costly, not only for politicians and parties alike but threatens our democratic system.
So, how do you make Gen Y care? As the old saying goes, the more you put in, the more you get out. If politicians want to ‘re-engage’ the young, they should start by making our issues a priority and giving us a stake at the main table of politics. Young people today care about the environment, worry about job prospects and rising costs of living. Placing emphasis on these issues can help young voters feel less disenchanted, and start to see voting and the political process as a tool that effectively represents their interests.
I implore politicians and older Australians to look beyond their assumptions of Gen Y and recognise a change in the way we engage in the democratic process. Young people are trying to make their voices heard through new means, whether it be their spending choices or social media. The sooner you realise this and invest time in our issues, the sooner we might start to give a damn about you too.