With the November municipal elections in British Columbia approaching quickly, the state of voter turnout, especially among younger people should be assessed -- and addressed. It's a common question: Why are younger people not turning out in droves for elections?
Just 39 per cent of voters in the 18-25 age bracket voted in the 2011 Ffederal election.
For any democracy to survive, we'll need more young people participating every cycle. I'm in pretty frequent contact with people in my age group, the 18-30 year olds. My sample size is pretty substantial and while what I'm about to say may come across as too generalizing, the answers to why young people don't vote are pretty commonplace.
Taboo for basic discussion?
Get a group of young people together and what are they bound to talk about? Probably not a piece of legislation. Probably not climate change, where "life" begins or civil liberties. Are these too serious of topics to warrant discussion?
While social media is generally a popular place to discuss issues, if you're 18-30 years old, open up your Facebook page and see how many friends are talking about particular issues. Then count how many are talking about events in the entertainment industry.
If simply talking about issues is difficult enough and we deem discussion of issues important for civic engagement, then how can we get more young people to care and out to the polls if people aren't talking?
But also factor in the pessimism that talking about issues and taking political action could all be for not, given how "rigged" decision-making can be.
Culture of corruption
I hear a lot of young people echo pessimism about the political process -- that if you take what a candidate says in campaign season and put that up against what happens over the four years in elected office, not a lot gets done. Promises are broken and it takes a lot out of you to know that your elected representatives aren't truly representing you.
Sure, a lot of decision-making depends on the composition of the House of Commons or the provincial legislature and a number of other factors but the evidence is strong that corruption and influence-peddling are commonplace in politics.
Take a close look at campaign donors. Young people have every right to be frustrated at the pandering by and consequential payouts to industry as a result of hefty campaign donations.
Of course, this is a problem and given human nature, it's not something that can be eradicated easily.
Lack of trust in elected officials
Bridging the evidence of corruption in politics to what it leads to -- a lack of trust in elected representatives. I've heard the following quotes or variations of them about politicians from people in my age group:
- "They're a bunch of liars."
- "They don't care about me."
- "The game is rigged."
You get the idea. If elected officials are constantly gaming the system, why bother voting? I understand the cynicism but abdicating your right to vote and your civic duty as a citizen is part of the problem.
There's a great quote from Bill Maher on this: "Freedom isn't free. It shouldn't be a bragging point that 'Oh, I don't get involved in politics,' as if that makes someone cleaner. No, that makes you derelict of duty in a republic. Liars and panderers in government would have a much harder time of it if so many people didn't insist on their right to remain ignorant and blindly agreeable."
There are always underdog independents in every riding in every election. Throw your support behind someone you can trust.
The rise In non-voting activism
Contrary to where you might think I'm going with all this, young people aren't completely in silence. Younger people are more frequent campaigners than older people and are increasingly mobilizing for causes of all varieties.
In 2011, the Occupy movement rose up in response to the global financial crisis as a result of greed (from those in the finance industry) and lack of financial oversight (from government). Granted, much of the lack of oversight happened in the United States, but this movement saw young people participate in droves as they questioned the current state of affairs. In 2012, Quebec students protested tuition increases, showing that they'll fight for causes that directly affect them.
From protests against Monsanto to recent ones fighting climate change, young people's frustration is increasingly channelled through activism rather than democratic action.
Regardless of the issue, political or not, young people have been willing to participate. Take "Mo-vember" or the recent ALS Ice Bucket Challenge as examples. However, we don't quite see young people mounting support for legislation that would increase funding for prostate cancer research or Lou Gehrig's disease.
Here are some ways I think can get things moving forward so that this November, the turnout among youth is as high as has been before:
- Learn about how your local governments operate. There's plenty of information available. Learn about what issues are affecting your city and community.
- Talk about issues openly. Ask other people your age what they think about those issues.
- Pressure political parties to disclose campaign contributions during an election, as a civic group in Richmond, B.C. (where I live) has vowed to do.
- Campaign and help out independent candidates or civic groups who aren't backed by special interests.
- Question the candidates! Ask them the tough questions and demand an honest, upfront answer.
What are your solutions? Are there solutions? I want to hear from you! Write your comments below.