Throughout my lifetime, young people have always been portrayed as disengaged with politics. Now, as a politics student and student journalist, I want to dispute this claim.
I am not naïvely assuming that the engagement of my peers (politics university students) is similar to that of all young people. But I do want to recognise that across the UK, young people are increasingly engaged in politics.
Since 2001, turnout across all age groups has been steadily rising; UK-wide it has risen by almost 10 percentage points. However, turnout amongst 18 to 24 year-olds does remain lower than turnout across other age groups. Voting is the most effective way the public can participate in politics. And undoubtably, young people still vote less than older people. There is still a lot of work to be done. However, the increases in youth engagement are not being recognised.
A key driver of this increase in youth participation is the advent of social media. The effect of social media on all aspects of life is huge; the impact of social media on politics is colossal. Young people participate in politics through social media in ways that older generations could never dream of. Through social media young people organise campaigns, find events, launch their own events, meet like-minded people, share articles with their peers, sign petitions about issues they care about, and write to and tweet their MPs. From this angle, young people are one of the most politically engaged groups in society.
Just last week the anti-Brexit youth campaign group, Our Future Our Choice organised a protest which saw thousands of demonstrators take to the streets to protest the Prime Minister’s coup of Parliament. This event took place merely four hours after the news broke and was organised almost solely through social media. This is a brilliant example of the strength of youth political engagement in the UK today.
However, as I said before, youth turnout in elections is still lower that turnout in other age groups. Evidently, we need more political and citizenship education in secondary schools. Politics influences so many aspects of our lives and young people need to be equipped with the skills to understand this. In this ‘post-truth’ era, young people need to be able to recognise fake news stories and learn how to fact check claims that are made.
If young people are not equipped to properly understand politics and if this myth about youth disengagement is perpetuated, then younger voters will not vote. With the current demographic polarisation in political opinion, if young people turnout to vote in lower numbers than older generations, then politicians that advocate more regressive and conservative policies can benefit.
The myth that young people are not engaged in politics needs to stop being perpetuated. Young peoples’ engagement needs to be facilitated through political, civic and citizenship education.
Young people have the power to create change. In order to facilitate this, we must recognise their engagement and empower them with the skills necessary to help them build a better world for us all.
Image originally posted to Flickr by Fibonacci Blue at https://flickr.com/photos/44550450@N04/32279579852. It was reviewed on 21 January 2017 by FlickreviewR and was confirmed to be licensed under the terms of the cc-by-2.0 (Wikimedia Commons)