Young people today! For as long as politics has existed, older generations have been berating the young as self-obsessed and disrespectful of their elders.
The big generational shift today seems to be climate change. For many young Europeans, the environment is their number one political priority. Yet millennials are also frequently lambasted as lazy “snowflakes” who don’t practice what they preach.
Despite the recent uptick in youth participation in the 2019 European Parliament elections, the overall trend of the past decade has been for voter turnout among young people (18-25) to be lower than other age groups, with young people also less likely to join political parties. So, do they really care about politics?
What do our readers think? Eric believes that the main reason young people are hesitant to participate in mainstream politics is that it is dull and requires working with people you’d rather not. Instead, he thinks young people prefer to participate in street protests because it’s more fun and has a clear short-term reward. Is he just being grumpy?
To get a response, we asked Damian Boeselager, who was recently elected to the European Parliament with the pan-European party Volt Europa. What would he say to Eric?
For another perspective, we also asked Bobby Duffy, Professor of Public Policy and Director of the Policy Institute at King’s College London. How would he respond?
When we are talking about behaviours and attitudes in a population, there are three things that affect it: there is something called cohort effects, which is about what’s unique to this generation. There is something called lifestyle effects which depends on how old you are, what stage of life you are in. Then there is something called period effects which is something that is happening, the context changes in society generally and that affects how we behave or our attitudes.
Those three effects explain everything about current and changing attitudes and behaviours in society at an aggregate level. It’s always a mix of these three things. There is an element of mix in engagement with politics if you look at the indicators that we can measure over time, which are things like voting levels, how much of the population and the young population actually take part in elections.
Again it’s always been the case that young people tend to vote less in countries where voting isn’t mandatory and that is continuing. But not at a massively different rate. This idea that young people are checking out of organised politics in a way they didn’t in the past is not really true. I do think again there is a technological difference where because of the new technologies, and social media in particular, being able to connect people in a way that they didn’t before, young people have a greater wider choice of things to be involved in, causes to support, and ways to organise themselves around that, through social media.
So, you have seen a growth in single-issue politics and movements and campaigns. Where actually you can organise yourself around the things that really do interest you or the things you area most focused on and get a group together of like-minded people and then organise demonstrations and other events that are political. The obvious example is around climate change and extinction rebellion and other types of group like that who are taking a more direct action approach aided by being able to organise themselves in a much looser way, aided by technology. In my view that adds to the richness of political involvement. It doesn’t mean that young people are not interested in politics. They are innately political actions that people are taking through these types of activities.
Next up, we had a comment sent in from Saurav, who believes that young people nowadays are narcissistic and only care about social media likes. Is that a fair assessment?
How would Damian Boeselager respond?
When it comes to politics, do millennials care about anything? Are street protests simply more fun than old-fashioned voting and campaigning? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!