Skills for the Job: Getting young people to vote

Professionals should use the Scottish referendum as a springboard for engaging young people about the merits of voting.

Why is it important that young people vote?

Voting is a right, is easy to do and is free. It is an opportunity for young people to be proactive and be a stakeholder in their society. The more young people who vote, the higher their issues will be on the political agenda.

Voting in an election gives their representatives a mandate for action or change. It provides leverage to make a difference. If the turnout rate among young people increases at the next election, their issues will become more valued. But if the majority of young people continue not to vote, then many politicians are more likely to ignore them because politicians are influenced and listen to the groups of society who elect them.

Like adults, there are many reasons why some young people are apathetic or cynical about politics and feel in the current political climate their vote will not count or make a difference. Regardless of this, it is important to tell young people that they should try to be part of the solution. They cannot create change by standing on the sidelines, so must get involved in creating change by engaging in the democratic process.

How many young people voted at the last general election?

Only 44 per cent of eligible young people aged between 18 and 24 voted in the 2010 general election, compared to an average of 65.1 per cent across all age ranges.

Is participation among young people on the increase?

Electoral Commission data at the last general election showed that only 56 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds were registered to vote, but since then, there has been a range of initiatives to stimulate voter registration. The British Youth Council (BYC) also made young voter registration its priority campaign for 2013/14 and latest figures released by the Electoral Commission in July showed the rate has increased to more than 70 per cent.

The Scottish independence referendum has certainly seen a massive response from young people and politicians to the lowering of the voting eligibility age from 18 to 16. Overall turn out for the referendum was 85 per cent, with between 80 and 90 per cent of 16- and 17-year-olds registering to vote.

There is also evidence of increasing involvement of young people in youth democracy through initiatives such as the BYC's Youth Voice initiative in local youth councils, the UK Youth Parliament and "social action" movements such as Step Up To Serve.

What are the best ways to get young people voting?

Get young people used to the habit of voting early. In schools, young people should be given a cause or issue to vote for, and the prospect of making a difference. Meanwhile, fun and engaging citizenship classes can teach how democracy works and how not voting at all can lead to minority or extreme parties gaining control of local or national divisions.

It is also worth trying to arrange visits to school or youth clubs of role models who young people can identify with who can talk to them and inspire them about politics. You can also point people in the direction of organisations such as BYC, UK Youth Parliament, Bite the Ballot and New Roadz.

What messages should professionals working with children and young people be giving them about voting?

Young people need to understand that politics affects every aspect of our daily lives. They do not have to be interested in politics, but should understand the impact it has on them and what they can do to influence it and hold politicians to account to ensure they are always working for their best interest. If young people do not have the confidence in who they are voting for, they should consider standing for political leadership themselves.

Top tips

  • Promote the concept of voting for all sorts of activities
  • Educate about voting through school lessons, youth club exercises or social action projects
  • Provide young people with a genuine platform to express their views
  • Stage a debate on the merits of voting
  • Encourage young people to get involved in social action campaigns and youth elections

By Kenny Imafidon, trustee, British Youth Council

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