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The votes of youth are an untapped power – why don’t they use it?

According to the 2018 Youth Barometer,  an annual study of Finns between the ages 15 to 29, indicates that most young people believe in the traditional forms of influencing, such as voting in elections. However, the youth turnout in elections (under 30 years of age), is constantly lower than in other age groups. This poses a problem to equal representation, a cornerstone of democracy.

Why doesn’t the youth participate in politics?

Studies made in Finland show, that factors affecting young people’s civic and political engagement often originate from education. Low levels of education of a young person or their parents correlate with lower turnout. Higher education has the opposite effect, also because others in the demographic vote more.

Young people are more affected than other age groups by perceptions of politics, politicians and how they see their own possibilities of influencing society. These usually stem from family, and studies have shown, that impressions from the childhood home can carry well into adulthood.

Certain groups of young people are more politically active than others and political participation also translates into voting.

Who does democracy belong to?

New forms of participation, such as civic initiatives, have proven to mobilize especially young people. There are uncovered possibilities in innovative, new forms in participating in the already existing political system.

The media often presents young people as passive targets that need saving, instead of actors capable of making their own decisions and taking action. Young people’s voices should also be heard in the media and public discourse.

Political parties should also pay attention to young people’s diminishing interest in parties. According to the Youth Barometer 2018, young people feel that parties do not bring matters important to youth into their political agendas. Parties should embrace the new ways of communication and participation important for the younger population.

It should also be noted, that people under 30 are underrepresented in their parties’ candidate lists. The election campaigns are often very expensive, and parties do not necessarily invest into the campaigns of younger representatives. This, in turn, leads to young people being underrepresented in parliament.

The problem with younger generations not voting requires new solutions – not only passive education. In my opinion, young people could truly be integrated in decision-making by creating new possibilities for engagement and, most importantly, activating also the people least interested in politics.

Anna Antila

The writer works as Demo Finland’s Programme Assistant.

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