Turnout in the 2014 EU elections was the lowest ever recorded, at just 42.54%. However, turnout amongst young voters (18-24) was even worse, at a mere 28%. Contrast that with turnout among people aged 55+, over half of whom (51%) cast their ballots in 2014, and it’s clear that youth participation in European elections is not great.

But it’s not just a problem for the EU, because youth turnout in national elections can also be appallingly low. There are exceptions, of course, and in some countries, such as France and Poland, young people are just as likely (or even more likely) than older voters to participate in elections. In general, though, young people are less likely to vote. Why is that? And how can we encourage better youth participation in politics? 

As part of our Debating Europe Schools series, we’ve been taking questions from students from across Europe to policymakers and experts for them to answer. For today’s debate, we had a question sent in on democracy and youth participation from a young person from Italy, and from a student of the German International School in the Hague.

Curious to know more about youth participation in European democracy? We’ve put together some facts and figures in the infographic below (click for a bigger version).


So, why don’t young people vote? We had a comment from Marco, a young person from Italy, who said he was disillusioned with traditional democracy because voting never changed anything:

citizen_icon_180x180Look at Italy. The people I voted for in the last elections (Monti and Bersani) were thrown out by their parties (note that one of them was thrown out despite winning a majority in parliament!). What is the point in political participation?

To get a response, we spoke to Evi Eleonora, an MEP with the “Movimento 5 Stelle”, an anti-establishment party founded by the Italian comedian Beppe Grillo. What would she say to Marco?

eleonoraWell, I share Marco’s frustrations. However, I think that technology can improve things. I am part of a movement called the 5-Star Movement, which is trying to break the common ways of doing politics. For example, I’ve personally been through an online selection process, where I put my CV and my profile online and people could vote for me, and in this way we created our electoral lists. And, according to the number of votes we received, I was elected to the European Parliament.

So,  this is a really new and innovative way of choosing our representatives, and we as a 5-Star Movement deeply believe in direct democracy and citizen participation in politics. So, I would hold this up as an example of the power of the Internet to improve democracy.

To get another perspective, we put Marco’s comment to Vedrana Gujić, President of the European Liberal Youth, the official youth-wing of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) Party in the European Parliament. How would she respond to Marco?

gujicWell, my response would be that political participation is indeed relevant for every voter and citzen in Europe, because this is the only way that we can actually influence the political process. The fact that voters elect the same parties over and over again is because they obviously feel that these are the people who can best represent their opinions.

But the traditional model of political representation nevertheless allows us to change the current state of affairs, because it also allows us to step into the political arena, present our views and opinions and encourage people to vote differently. So, it’s not a fixed process, it’s a fluid process, and it actually allows every citizen to become a player in the political arena. And current events demonstrate that it’s possible for new movements and parties to emerge, especially in the South of Europe, where people obviously feel they were not adequately represented by the traditional political parties.

Finally, we had a question sent in from a student of the German International School in the Hague, wondering if more young people would engage in politics if there were more young politicians.

To get a reaction, we put this comment to Konstantinos Kyranakis, President, Youth of the European People’s Party (YEPP). He was sceptical that having younger politicians would make a huge difference, and argued that young people needed to take greater responsibility and see it as their civic duty to vote. After all, he argued, young people cannot change anything by “sitting on the couch playing video games, or complaining when we go out for coffee with friends”:

To get another perspective, we also took this question to Michael Bloss, spokeperson of the Federation of Young European Greens. Here’s what he had to say:

blossThat’s a good question. I really believe that if there were more young people engaged in politics and offering positive rolemodels, then there would be more young people interested in politics. As long as there are only older politicians representing people, then European politics doesn’t seem to be so interesting to young people. But, when we have young politicians from the ‘Generation Erasmus’, then it becomes interesting again, because young people actually have different questions and a different perspective on life, and this should be reflected in politics.

Why should people bother voting in elections? If voter turnout falls below a certain point, are the results still legitimate? And is it the civic duty of all citizens to participate in elections? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – Anna Vignet

114 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

    • avatar

      stay woke

  1. avatar
    James McManama

    Because people died for your right to vote.

    Because voting CAN change things, even if it sometimes doesn’t seem that way.

    Because it’s your civic duty as a citizen.

    Because if you don’t vote, you have no right to complain about results.

    Because otherwise extremists can capture the political system with only a small, dedicated voter base.

    • avatar
      Tarquin Farquhar

      @James McManama
      4…WRONG – until ballot papers have ‘NONE OF THE ABOVE’ then your point is ERRONEOUS.
      5…Correct – this happened in last year’s EU plebiscite.

    • avatar

      Yes other than 4 your arguments are right. Even in coutries without democracy people are entitled to complain, and they do complain. The fact is democracy has never been a settlement to please all people so there will always someone who complain.

    • avatar
      bert van santen

      You`re claiming extremists can capture the political system.

      In 2005 the Dutch population voted clearly NO with more then 60% in the EU referendum held.
      Unfortunatly our Dutch premier Balkenende has already signed the excisting treaty.
      Because the French before the Dutch also voted against, the EU politicians had to find a way out. A new treaty was quickly written and our premier Balkenende skipped the promised 2nd referendum to be sure the population couldn`t do more damage.
      I `am not familiar with Your definition of extremist handling but this certainly doesn`t sound as democracy in my ears. As a lot of actions by the EP and the EU don`t.

      My idea is that the so called mainstream politician parties have done more harm compared to the so called EU and euro critic parties

  2. avatar

    Because… “political participation is indeed” the only way to “influence the political process”.

    As to …”the power of the Internet to improve democracy”, I believe that its power lies ONLY in its availability to reach out to more/younger people. But people will use the Internet IF AND ONLY IF the politicians behind it do offer something different and substantial and not because of some intrinsic power of the Internet.

  3. avatar
    Nando Aidos

    Because… “political participation is indeed” the only way to “influence the political process”.

  4. avatar
    Lyubomir Sirkov

    Every vote counts – even if your prefered candidate was not elected, all the other candidates in all the future elections will take into account the way you voted in this particular election.

  5. avatar
    Ivan Burrows


    At the MEP elections it was a complete waste of time as the result was always going to be ignored and the peoples of Europe knew it.

    People will vote in our referendum however to get us out of the antidemocratic EU.

  6. avatar

    Voting is the only way to make ones opinion known.
    The over riding problem is that the self interest of those in charge always over rides the will of the people.
    Those in charge will lie,cheat ,and act in their own self interests rather than acknowledge the democratic voice of the electorate.

  7. avatar
    Ferenc Lázár

    The vote always matters, even one vote! Just think about- the official language of U.S.A. in 1700-s were decided by votes, only couple of hundred made it to be English…otherwise they would all speak German!

    • avatar
      Prince du Sang

      Well, if they remained a English colony under the crown like good English citizens there would be no vote in the first place.

  8. avatar
    Christos Mouzeviris

    Because if they don’t then they can’t complain about politics and their politicians… Those who do bother to go and vote(which usually are pensioners and people of older generations) will have a say and shape their country’s future, leaving the interests of the young people out. Those who vote will shape the country according their beliefs and interests, which are not necessarily the same with what benefits the young people. The youths are losing out and then they can not complain when the government adopts policies that leave the interests of young people out..!! Simple!!

    • avatar
      Tarquin Farquhar

      @Christos Mouzeviris
      WRONG!! Until ballot papers have ‘NONE OF THE ABOVE’ then your point is ERRONEOUS.

  9. avatar
    Mika Ainasoja

    Humans are social beings and only acceptable decisions are made by consensus, that is politics. If you decline voting you give free reign for dictators.

    • avatar

      Very true! Always vote.

      The problem now in a country like Italy is that it has turned into a gerontocracy when the old feed upon and destroys the young, destroy the live force of Italy to safeguard their little selfish interest (http://theconversation.com/italys-elderly-elite-short-changes-its-children-and-destabilises-europe-18635).

      In Italy no matter how young are talented or earned good degrees they are not taken seriously until they are 40. Until then their employers will treat them like teenagers and will pay the a misery, forcing them to live with their parents well after they are 30. Many talented and educated young Italians chose to leave Italy to countries like the UK where there talent will be greeted and considered even if they are “only” 25. That problem is acute in Italy but spreads in all the western world.

      In the case of Italy, the country has only 4 options to survive :

      1) restrict the voting rights of people when they reach an age like 65
      2) Give full voting rights to people from 18 yo (It’s 25 yo in Italy)
      3) Give citizenship and voting rights to young immigrants to restore a balance between elders and young
      4) do nothing and collapse

      And you can be sure they will do nothing…

  10. avatar
    Sebastien Chopin

    Well… voting would only be worth anything if over a certain number of blank votes, the election gets cancelled….and none of the candidates can re-present themselves… Otherwise no evolution is de facto possible and we’ll just go from one generation of politicians to the next and believe we’re improving society as we blindly get told we do…in and out of economic crisis’
    At the end of the day if voting was going to have any impact… it would long have been forbidden.
    The idea is good but the system is far too chained up for it to work…. today you have to be fucking stupid to vote…. as a result the fucking stupid did vote in the last election in Britain…. and we all saw the result of that… can’t wait for the next antieurotwat-homegrown-nevermovedoutofthevillage-idiotic politician to offer a referendum on the EU ….France maybe?

  11. avatar

    “Research reveals that during their 20s people around the world experience significant shifts in the traits biologists use to describe the human personality. Specifically, “openness” declines and “conscientiousness” increases. Higher openness is associated with intellectual curiosity, a preference for variety, and voting for the left; higher conscientiousness, characterized by self-discipline and dutifulness, predicts support for more conservative politics. “… “If an individual’s political personality hasn’t changed by the time of his or her 30th birthday, however, it’s not likely to differ all that much at 40, 50, or 60. This isn’t to say that all teenagers are liberal and all older people are conservative. In any age group, people are distributed along the left-right spectrum on a bell curve. The entire curve, however, moves somewhat to the right during the mid-20s.”

    Source: http://www.bloomberg.com/bw/articles/2014-04-17/liberal-or-conservative-brain-development-may-be-key-factor

  12. avatar
    Jaime Martins

    Young people do not vote because they do not believe in your political system, is outdated, should be more popularly participative and work for people, not for enterprises and bankers.

  13. avatar
    Artur Pereira

    Lack of jobs,mostly.And wrong job creation policies. In my Country and others there are not jobs for youngsters.And older people have to work until 66 years old and politicians say it´s not enough.

  14. avatar
    Maria Paschou

    Because there was a time when they couldn’t. Because there was a time when women didn’t have the right to vote. Because we should enjoy our fundamental rights. Because we feel the contemporary “dictatorship” in our veins and the only weapon that we have to strive for our future is this vote. Voting is not only a right. It’s a life choice that you make. You either stay home criticising others choices or you make your own.

    • avatar
      Prince du Sang

      So that is the strongest argument for voting, simply because humanity didn’t have the “right” to vote in the past, and of course, not voting will lead to dictatorship…correct? Is humanity good or bad? If it was inherently good there would be no abusive dictators. Who says the majority or “the people” is inherently good? Voting is a choice, but it is a weak one. An individual has a better chance at expressing his or her own opinion in critical writing, art, architecture,poetry, music, etc. Why does voting have to be the “sole” life choice one makes. All it is, is an ego-driven popularity contest.

  15. avatar
    Vinko Rajic

    Voting online should be possible . EU should have a media house similar to BBC , people should be informed over elections and EU .

    • avatar
      Tarquin Farquhar

      @Vinko Rajic
      The EU already does – it’s called EURONEWS and it is deliberately set-up to be ANT-BRITISH.

  16. avatar
    Eduardo Branco

    I believe we overreact in what concerns electoral abstention. It comes to such rates, all across Europe, that many question democracy itself. I think thats unfair. If 5 people vote in an election while 5 million abstains, for every kind of futile reasons, then the “voice of the people” is the majority within those five voters, since all others, freely and consciously, kind of delegate on them the responsability to chose. That mean a sort of thinking like “between the possible options whitch are likely to win the elections, I don’t really give a damn about who wins”! Is that good thinking? That is not my point! But I think that, in a society that has eradicated anything like a POLITICAL mass culture, is only natural that turnout is so low and it does not mean that people don’t back up democracy or, in this case, the EU. The European Union would never had been, if a large majority of it’s citizens did not support it, even if in a silent and apparently distant position…

  17. avatar
    Prince du Sang

    Numerous young people don’t vote because they don’t care.

    Voting is way to simplistic, and linear in order to decide my entire destiny!!!

  18. avatar
    Ferenc Lázár

    Younger generations do not vote because they don’t believe anymore in democracy as the generation of 50-s, 60-s and 70-s in general. It’s about time for the rich old people to share their benefits, assets and give up their luxurious lifestyle! How do you expect young people to beleive when they see the corruptions of old leaders all the time- World Bank leader Kahn, Fifa leaders, some European leaders like Juncker- these are the examples of hypocrisy and corruption what they see in all parts of society!

    • avatar
      Prince du Sang

      Hahaha…. so why not armed revolution? That is at least more efficient than voting.

  19. avatar
    Gianvito Capone

    Because of widespread corruption. Candidates that are not corrupted or complete and utterly imbecile, generally have no chance of a significant success, since they almost never get equal visibility and representation on mass media as the big parties. Therefore, voting is pretty much useless if not for preventing some slightly worse candidate from winning over a slightly better one, most of the times.

  20. avatar
    Alex Lexva

    They would vote for Lady Gaga, Rita Ora, Niki Minaj, Bieber and Beyonce … all non Europeans

  21. avatar

    I agree young people should participate, but voting is not the only way to participate in modern democracy.

  22. avatar
    Sarah Belegris

    Education – fundamentally , we do not understand how interconnected countries are because our education does not focus on subjects like “European studies” highlighting legislative, economic or political structures that act as abstract infrastructures that underlie the world we operate in.

  23. avatar
    David Garrahy

    It’s significant that, in comparison, 47% of young people vote in local election (eurobarometer, 2015). Young people are attracted to vote when they see cthe concrete effects of their vote on their communities. That’s the experience we’ve had in the Youth Forum through the European Youth Capital, where thousands of young people are mobilised in one European city to increase youth participation and the link to the European level.

    For young people, sadly EU politics seems distant and there is an unclear link with their daily lives. Huge efforts are needed in projects such as the Youth Capital that involve young people and ensure their participation in Europe. Young people are consistently shown as the most pro-European – without their involvement in Europe’s present, the EU has no future.

    • avatar
      Prince du Sang

      I’m in my early twenties and I detest the EU with every ounce of blood in my heart.

  24. avatar
    Nikos Themelis

    Well,the experience of the last few years has shown that whatever people vote,the policies don’t change because the policies are forced down on the throats of people by the banks,neoliberal politicians,corrupt politicians and eurocrats.
    Elections don’t change anything because in europe there is no true democracy.

  25. avatar
    David Cameron

    I think that voting is important because if you don’t vote when you should people like nigel farage will end up being prime minister, then we’ll have a huge problem. We don’t want a world war three people!!!!

  26. avatar
    Joey Stack

    Don’t vote, don’t moan about the result or the subsequent actions of the elected government, simple as that.

  27. avatar

    If YOU do not vote it does not mean others do not vote. And these others are the fanatics or the “paid voters” who will take away the prize against all odds.
    If YOU do not run a race, someone else, less fit, will take away the prize.
    If YOU do not push the obstacle out of your path, someone else will push it into your path.
    And in all cases you have to live with the consequences, no matter how loud you scream after the fact.
    As simple as that. It is YOUR choice.

  28. avatar
    Nando Aidos

    If YOU do not vote it does not mean others do not vote. And these others are the fanatics or the “paid voters” who will take away the prize against all odds.
    If YOU do not run a race, someone else, less fit, will take away the prize.
    If YOU do not push the obstacle out of your path, someone else will push it into your path.
    And in all cases you have to live with the consequences, no matter how loud you scream after the fact.
    As simple as that. It is YOUR choice.

  29. avatar
    Dino Boy Mican

    People don’t bother, because voting usually makes no difference. The margins within which mainstream politics move are quite narrow. The path politicians follow is obligatory, only the recipe varies, and that only a little. Secondary issues can be affected by elections and referendums, like for example, homo matters and things like that.

  30. avatar
    Rüdiger Lohf

    The more bad educated people do vote the less Europe we will get. A lack of knowledge means all-time a kind of nationalism or “regionalism”.

  31. avatar
    Ivan Burrows


    Voting in MEP elections is a complete waste of time because the European Parliament is just the rubber stamping department of the European Commission which rules over the EU & is unelected.

  32. avatar
    Antoine Che

    Because it is not the role of the people in power to write the rules of their own power
    “We want a democratic Constitutional Assembly, therefore randomly drawn.”

    It is the explicit proposal which should rally the millions of citizens whose political impotency is programmed in the constitution.

    By reading the 6 chapters of this website, you will understand that if you want to change anything in the mechanisms of our current society, you will have to make this message your one and only claim: from its application the rest will follow. To understand the strength of this message, please take a few minutes to read through the six chapters of the website, they are very short.

  33. avatar
    Stelios Peppas

    When the two basic and fundamental columns of European political life ( Social Democracy and Liberal Conservatism) are heading into the same path, which is the point of voting anymore? Europe is facing the greatest decay of ideology the last 30 years at least, by its acceptance, as a whole of states and political micro systems or national systems, of the obscure idea of ” The End of History” as the ending of ideological and class war within society. Nowadays, the most crucial and radical point in European democracy is the rediscovery of the ideals and ideological elements that will lead again the opposite movements into a nutritious dialogue with history and actual policies that they can reproduce within this struggle. In any other case, Europe, if it doesn’t change that, soon enough will face break down and will destroy every collaboration that has created in the path of those almost 70 years that exists.

  34. avatar
    σαντυ αλεξανδρου

    Young people know from their parents what happens after election.Politicians promise,lie,deceive people.You can’t trust them.There is the ”before election” and ”after elections” politician.Why should young people take part to such a comedy?Whatever they are being promised, never comes true.

  35. avatar
    Laurinda Seabra

    voting is rigged as useless as we’ve just witnessed in greece. so why vote? when corporations, bankers and elites calls the shots via their puppets in government?

  36. avatar
    Antonio Santos

    the vote is the legitim peaceful power of the people and of each citizen to elect a government to rule is country

  37. avatar
    Breogán Costa

    Too much time with reality shows, gossiping TV, Play Station, so, no time for important stuff.

  38. avatar
    Γιωργος Πατερας

    Young people usually are poorly educated on economics, history, politics and don’t have the experience to make up for those. They rarely read books and dream a lot. As a result only a few will vote and even less will vote responsibly.

  39. avatar
    Jonas Oškinis

    Young people should vote for projects like participatory budgeting, helping better decide issues related to their generation directly.

  40. avatar
    Глобалността и ние

    Youth Senate with veto power over all legislation. From 16 to 30 years to elect their representatives by majority voting system with higher education who are entitled by a qualified majority to veto and cause referendums.

  41. avatar
    Bart Vd B

    Because they have nobody truly representing them and they are probably more aware than the older public that the voting doesn’t make a difference if another nation ends up deciding your economic policies for you anyway…

  42. avatar
    Dehari Dorian

    A structure Who can help to trace money movement ,from tax-payments to direct investments it would help a lot, on my opinion. And, the process of choosing our representatives, needs to be improved. A lot of politicians doesn’t seems to know the basic features of the EU countries.

  43. avatar

    Let me rephrase the question
    – Why shouldn’t politicians pay attention to young people so these can bother voting in elections?
    – The problem is NOT with the youth, or the older voters, for that matter. The problem is with the politicians who keep forgetting that their role is to represent the voter, young or old alike!

  44. avatar
    Nando Aidos

    Let me rephrase the question:
    – Why shouldn’t politicians pay attention to young people so these can bother voting in elections?
    – The problem is NOT with the youth, or the older voters, for that matter. The problem is with the politicians who keep forgetting that their role is to represent the voter, young or old alike!

  45. avatar
    Rick Wilmot

    I asked my friends son why he didn’t vote. ‘Pretty pointless because all of the main parties support capitalism so why change one capitalist party for another capitalist party’. He had a point!

  46. avatar
    Toni Muñiz

    They don’t believe and trust in politicians. They see politicians are not accountable for their wrong doings. Basically see it pointless, as no matter who you vote for, politicians are all lying and conniving for their own interest and agendas. And those interests are not in the interest of citizens.

  47. avatar
    Διαμαντόπουλος Κωνσταντίνος

    Politics seems to be converted to an amoralistic practicing collating state activity development and private financial welfare. In addition humanitarian offerings as well as free wage announcements tend to be an advertisement and communication effect manipulating public opinion. So Youths seem to be cautious to politics matter and voting issue is framed on this disbelief platform!

  48. avatar
    Gonçalo Hall

    How can we vote in people who are in power for too much time? Or in corrupts? Or in people that have to follow all the partie ideas to go up in the chain, the arrive to the power? We need real people as candidates, not this clowns of the installed power.. We need better persons in politic, and when we believe in one f them, we will vote.

  49. avatar
    Ferenc Lázár

    I’ll tell you exactly how can you make all citizens going to vote, because there are majority of all ages who not go to vote on European issues; TALK AND ACT ABOUT REAL, IMPORTANT ISSUES FOR ORDINARY CITIZENS, NOT MAKE THEM TIRED AND CONFUSED ABOUT IRRELEVANT ISSUES! Biggest problem in today society is that leaders and politicians are trained on how to make people confused about irrelevant aspects!

  50. avatar
    Alex Bell

    Maybe we dont like competing with old voters and their outdated paradigms.

  51. avatar
    Emil Panayotoff

    Why don’t we have young people in any high position ever ??? Are they always less smart then the old people ? :)))

  52. avatar
    Maria Paschou

    The problem with political jokes is that they get elected.
    Feel free to find the answer to your question.
    Yours faithfully, a fellow young woman.

  53. avatar
    Eugenia Serban

    Young people don t vote because they are desgusted by politics and politicians and they are not old and perverted enough to take enormous louds of lies as “truth”.

  54. avatar
    Vinko Rajic

    Because of mad media . People don’t understand what is all about and they don’t vote . EU should have a media house similar to BBC . Media is owned by big corporations and they create madness .

  55. avatar
    Yves Le Morellec

    because there are much more old people in Europe, then young people don’t feel listened by politics because there are not enough representative of population.

  56. avatar

    I think young people should bother abut voting because it gives them more experience for when they are older

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