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:
Look 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?
Well, 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?
Well, 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:
That’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!