Students don’t care about politics. The Office for National Statistics say that only 1 in 3 young people vote, and every avenue of modern culture, be it television, celebrities and comedians, or even politicians themselves, seem to agree.
Several reasons have been suggested as to why there aren’t more young voters. They vary from the idea that no one can convince a teenager that one vote will make a difference, to the simple notion that politics is boring and uninteresting. Others say that it is all an ill-fated game of chicken, where students wait for politicians to offer them something worth voting for, while the politicians in turn wait for students to start voting in large enough numbers to warrant a campaign focus. The likely matter is that there’s truth to all three of these theories, but above all, the issue is that young people don’t vote because when they look at politics they see a system that is outdated and broken.
It can’t be said that young people never vote; but when they do, it is often ill thought and superficial. Choosing a party for the sake of it is often based on fleeting fancies such as cost convenience (it’s only £2 to become part of the Independence party) or following basic human instincts that require no political thought. Put most simply: Green is good, I’ll vote for them. Other tendencies are to vote for the newest parties. With little interest in politics other than to complain about politicians, it is often deemed suitable to avoid established parties, a vote for whom would be a vote for the same old same old. Better to vote for what is new; or at least for what is not old and broken.
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For many young people who are interested in politics, however, it is better not to vote at all. A prevalent idea is that their generation should continue its apathetic approach and remain alienated in the hope that the system will break down and one day change. This viewpoint was supported last year, when comedian, Russel Brand, made the headlines with the idea of revolution which included the priniple that people should protest by not voting.
This apathy, however, is not always so simple. Things change when politics becomes less of a gentle buzz in the background, and more a tangible reality that cannot be ignored. As the Scottish referendum showed, when push comes to shove, young people will not sit back and allow things to play out without them. When it was passed that 16-17 year old would be allowed to vote in the referendum, roughly 100,000 of them signed up to do so, and although the referendum ultimately didn’t go the way of young voters (with the ‘No’ campaign winning despite an estimated 71% of young people voting ‘Yes’) student interest in politics has remained. The Scottish Nationalists party continues to gain members, thanks in no small part to its commitment to free tuition, an issue which continues to highlight the fact that politics, as a means by which things are decided, can and will continue to control key issues. For Scottish students, the independence referendum was not a passing fleet of political interest from young people in Scotland, but an introduction to politics itself.
Northern Ireland is no different. The political debate over the legalisation of gay marriage sparked political interest in students last year, as despite public polls suggesting that two thirds of people were comfortable with gay marriage, the opinion did not transfer to politics. It is decisions like this which young people resent not having a voice over, and if decisions which young people care about continue to be resolved by a political system they do not affiliate themselves with, it may be, that like in Scotland, if students want a political world that echoes their own, then they are going to have to enter it themselves.