Europe is preparing itself to go to the polls this week, with the European parliamentary elections that will be held in all the member states between the 23rd and 26th of May. With a voter turnout that kept on falling since 1979, several concerns have been raised about the low young voter turnout, namely the reasons for that and what can be done about it.
Let’s start with some numbers. The total voter turnout was about 42.61% for the European elections of 2014, after a long series of decrease since 1979. Most importantly, the turnout among all the age clusters was the lowest among the youngest voters, with only 28% of the voters between 18 and 24 years old voting.
It seems like the main reason why there is such a low participation among the young population is a general lack of interest in politics, as mentioned by 21% of the respondents aged between 18 and 24. Another reason stated especially by students was also the lack of time, with many of them saying that they were “too busy to vote”. This might be explained by the fact that most of them feel like they did not have access to all the information required to make an informed decision, or maybe that they do not feel like they have the time to properly look for it. Another reason might be the feeling that their opinion does not matter, as 49% of the 18-24 years old believes that the European Parliament does not take into account the needs and wants of the European citizens. The feeling of abandonment and exclusion from the political life might be the reason why they do not vote.
However, interestingly enough, the youngest age cluster is also the one that is the most supportive towards the European Union. Indeed, 70% of the Europeans voters aged between 18 and 24 years old declare feeling European. They are also the group category where there were more people trusting the EU institutions (48%) rather than not trusting them (45%).
As pointed out by the numbers, we are facing a huge paradox in the young people’s voting behaviour in Europe. Indeed, as stated previously, the support towards the European Union is very strong among the youngster. Students in particular are the most likely to believe that their vote can change things, and that the European Parliament has to play a key role in that. Moreover, young people are more and more involved in the political life; such as denunciations on social media or protests for the climate, young people from all over the world are trying to voice their opinion and show that they care about their future. However, this attitude does not match the voting patterns happening in the elections. If the young population feels so concerned about their future, then why is their turnout that low?
Why such a low turnout?
A quick glance at the European Youth Ideas website can help us answer this question. On this website, where young people are invited to share their opinion on a handful of subjects, many depict the reasons why there is such a low turnout and what we can do about it. Echoing the numbers previously stated, the reason that comes back over and over again is the lack of interest in politics. Moreover, many feel like they do not have access to all the information required to make a decision with full knowledge of the facts, or even more simply, to understand the functioning of the European Union. Furthermore, others feel like they cannot trust this complicated system, that they are not represented nor heard. In this setting, what would be the point of knowing anything about politics, if in the end, decisions are made without consulting you?
But hopefully, many young people also believe in the future of our union. Many are proposing solutions to increase the turnout, from increasing youth representation in the Parliament, to making information more accessible and spreading knowledge about our institutions. For many of them, it seems that if people were taught in school about the functioning of the EU, the main parties or even more simply, how to vote in elections, people would be guided in this complex system, and they would make better-informed decisions. They would have more knowledge, and hence, by being more confident in what they know and what they believe, they would have more power and have the ability to change things.
The Brexit Case
On the 23rd of June 2016, day of the Brexit referendum, the United Kingdom decided to reject their European membership and the decision to leave the European Union was accepted by 51.89% of the total voters, against 48.11% that voted remain.
Among the voters, the young voter turnout was higher than expected, with 64% of the 18-24 years old registered participating in the elections. For many of them, this referendum was the opportunity to show their support towards the European Union, as 70% of them voted to remain. However, their commitment to Europe had to face the even more motivated oldest age cluster, with a turnout higher than 90% for the over-65 years old, among which 60% voted to leave the EU.
In the wake of this referendum, many young people felt betrayed by their own country. The feeling that their decision had been taken away by a group of people that would not even be there to bear the consequences of their choice was extremely present. This vote fractured the country, with many young people feeling like their future had been decided by someone else than themselves.
But somehow, this unlikely outcome for the young population and the anger that it created represent also the occasion to transform all these negative feelings into something more productive in the functioning of our democracy. Young people are protesting, saying that they should have been heard more and even mentioned the possibility to lower the voting age. However, if that were the case, the question would be: would that measure be efficient if we do not take any other actions in order to raise interest among the youngest voters? If even today, young people are not motivated to vote, how can we expect even younger to be interested in these subjects?
Although the question of lowering the voting age can be countered, it shows how concerned the young generations feel about their future. How they wish they were heard more, how they feel the need to be more empowered regarding their future, how they want to get back what is owed to them.
Fight for your future
Low young voter turnout in elections is something that we should all be concerned with, as it shows how badly our democratic system works. It is the symptom of something way deeper than just a simple lack of interest; it is trigged by a lack of trust by young people, whether it is in the system itself, or in their own beliefs.
Young people need to understand how important it is to vote. How important it is that they choose their own future, that they do not let other people do it for them, as it happened with the Brexit in June 2016. They should realise how crucial it is that they voice their opinion, that they stand up for their beliefs, that they fight together in order to get what is theirs, what they deserve.
So yes, it takes time and motivation to do your own research, to look for the information that you would need to make an informed decision, especially when no one, even the education provided by your State, is helping you. It takes guts not to take the things that you see on the internet or that are told by your parents as absolute truth, and it takes time to do your own facts checking, to build your own opinion. It takes courage to liberate yourself from all the easiness and get out of your comfort zone.
It is hard and tiring to build, fuel and maintain the desire of being informed, empowered, and to choose your own future.
But you should not be afraid of taking all these steps. You should not be scared of voicing your opinions, of standing up for your ideas. You should not fear being wrong either, or changing views during your journey, because this would help you grow, and would help you build a real and well thought opinion on the matter.
We, young people, need to show that we are present, and that we want to decide ourselves for our future. We need to speak up to get what we want, to be proud of our ideas. We need to be strong, and not fear to be ourselves. But most importantly, we need to get together because we will be stronger united. We need to fight collectively, not only for ourselves, but also for the ones that cannot find the guts to fight by themselves, for the ones that feel excluded from all of this. For the future generations that will build their fight on our foundations.
Choose your future. Grab your card, and go vote in the European elections. Do not let anyone else decide for you anymore.