Politicians must meaningfully engage young people on democracy says academic

By Laura McCardle

| 25 April 2014

Politicians must introduce a raft of well-thought-out measures if they are to encourage more young people to vote, an academic has said.

Professor Matt Henn has said politicians must do more to engage young people in democracy.

Professor Matt Henn, chair of social research at Nottingham Trent University, has said that MPs must do more to engage young people and to make them feel that participation is meaningful and worthwhile.

He also believes that the introduction of compulsory first time voting, as proposed by the Institute for Public Policy Research, would further disengage young people from politics.

Henn’s remarks coincide with the publication of a study he carried out with a research colleague Nick Foard into the voting habits of young people.

The survey of 1,025 18-year-olds revealed that 81 per cent have a negative view of politicians and that 57 per cent believe elections have little impact.

However, 63 per cent claimed to have some interest in politics and 57 per cent said they are committed to the principle of voting.

Henn said politicians need to think carefully about how to engage more young people.

He said: “The key question is how do we get more young people thinking about politics in such a way that they actually want to go and vote?

“Lowering the voting age or compulsory voting will not in themselves achieve this.

“Rather, extending the vote to 16 years old should be tied in with measures to improve young people’s political literacy and help make the idea of democratic participation second nature.

“Furthermore, practical measures such as keeping schools open on polling day so that young people can easily cast their vote while at school might also help to boost young people’s turnout at elections.”

Marc Kidson, chair of the British Youth Council (BYC), has welcomed the report.

He said: “This research confirms that young people, while disillusioned with politicians, are still keen to engage with politics.

“The BYC backs the recommendations for a strong package of measures – including votes at 16 and better political education – to bring more young people into the voting habit.

“We have recently launched the League of Young Voters coalition that will use the window between now and the election to get more young people ready to use their vote.”

The research, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, was conducted in 2011 but the findings have only recently been published.

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