Research shows young people are not turning up to the polling stations despite the fact that getting involved in politics has never been easier!

By Kate McGowan

Elections are a vital part of today’s society, from local councils to Westminster as the decisions of our elected representatives affect us all, regardless of age- yes, including young people.

Young people between the ages of 15 to 25 account for just over 20% of the population in Northern Ireland. Whilst accounting for a very sizeable portion of the population, they unfortunately do not represent a very sizeable portion of the votes here in Northern Ireland.

Are you currently on the electoral role in Northern Ireland?

A recent survey carried out to determine the attitudes towards young voter participation in Northern Ireland showed that 29% of young people aged between 18-26 surveyed are not currently registered on the electoral role in Northern Ireland.

Further and possibly more shocking research also highlighted that only 60% of young people surveyed had actually voted in a general election, meaning that 40% of young people have never placed a vote. This is in spite of the fact that in today’s digital age getting involved in politics has never been easier.

Have you voted before?

It only takes a glance at social media to see that young people do seem to show an interest in current affairs, or perhaps better phrased; what’s wrong with the current state of affairs in Northern Ireland. Whether it’s Brexit based, student loans and rent rebate related or the current state of the economy in general due to the Covid 19 pandemic young people are very happy to voice their grievances with the current political structure and decision-making process within Northern Ireland online. However, if young people are so frustrated why aren’t they showing up to the polls?

The table above highlights a number of key factors as to why young people choose not to place a vote. Figures show that out of the young people surveyed, 40% did not know how to vote in elections, with a further 66% admitting to not knowing how local and national democracy is organised. Moreover, research showed that only 32% of those surveyed knew who their local MP was and how to get in touch. This highlights the fact that there is an obvious lack of knowledge amongst young people on basic political awareness which could very easily be addressed.

Further research supports the theory that young people feel more than a little neglected when it comes to campaigning and political polices. 61% of young people surveyed stated they feel the Government pays less attention to them in campaigns. When asked what more politicians could do to encourage them to vote or get involved in politics, answers included, having a higher social media outreach, meeting face-to-face with young people, offering more education on the polling process and creating policies which would appeal to a younger demographic.

Speaking to Alliance Party Activist, Padraic Farrell on the importance of young voters he said, “Young peoples involvement and voices in politics are incredibly important, especially when it comes to matters such as education and creating more financial and social opportunities for those leaving schools or university and entering the workplace for the first time!”. When presented with the findings from the previously highlighted survey, his response was, “There’s definitely a lot still to be done to encourage younger people to get involved with politics and to vote. Yet, as a member of the Alliance party, I’m very encouraged by their very sizeable young group within the party with members as young as 15 years old getting involved and having their voices and opinions expressed and taken very seriously by all of the Alliance’s current elected representatives within the party. We are working to try and aid the mindset within many of our younger people in Northern Ireland for the need of a much fairer and inclusive society for all!”

Mid-Ulster DUP MLA, Keith Buchanon stressed the importance of young people in politics stating, “Whether it be Stormont, House of Commons or Council, a vote is important, you need an MP to represent you and an excuse to, (excuse the term) shout at. Council deal with local stuff and probably a lot of day-to-day stuff, so whether you vote in any election there’s still a relevance of importance and I think it empowers a person to either have an argument with their politician or a debate with their politician if they’ve actually voted, if they didn’t vote it kind of takes that strength away.”

When questioned on what the DUP as a party do to appeal to the younger generation and how they encourage young people to vote, he said, ““School interaction is one thing you need to go where the young people are and that’s a problem for us, I’ll be honest it’s getting the time and the opportunity to engage face-to-face. To be blunt it’s about being pro-active and going out to schools and to places that you probably don’t feel comfortable in, we need to probably get out of our comfort zone and get to those places and put our points across and engage.”

Due to information from research conducted showing young people think that politicians should be more active online and on social media, the question was put to Mr Buchanon on how the DUP currently use social media platforms, he said, “Yes we do social media and it’s probably an issue where we need to start reaching out to more younger people because we cannot rely on our old traditional vote alone, we have to reach out wider and explain who we are.”