What is it that we look for in our politicians is it experience, judgement or is it youth?
I ask this as over the past few weeks on Twitter parties from all sides seem to be nominating younger people (18-30 years old) to contest the upcoming elections. As I have pointed out in a previous post-Northern Ireland actually does well in getting younger people into the assembly when compared to the rest of the UK. However, despite this rise of young people coming up the party ranks just 51.3% of young people bothered to vote in the 2011 election.
The apparent disparity between the amount of young people running and those actually voting has gotten me thinking do younger faces on a ballot actually translate into more young people voting?
I always remember my experience at university fresher’s fayres handing out leaflets and taking part in political campaigns which at the time seemed to me to be very effective, but looking back I realise how little the rest of the student body actually cared about any of the issues we were ever talking about. Sure, we all hear the stories of the great turnouts at events and the ‘but deep down the really do care’ but to me this was always just a PR exercise in trying to make people seem like they were interested when really the majority of the students were in the bar playing pool.
I mention this as this experience is typically where the younger people running in elections here come from. Growing up in a political environment you naturally become consumed by it and think that this is the way things operate for everybody. However, the best advice I was ever given about politics was being told ‘Dave, to be honest, the average punter goes for days without giving politics a second thought.’ I was honestly perplexed when I heard this for the first time as in my passion for the topic that I loved I couldn’t understand why anybody couldn’t care about politics?
Then life kicks in-I was fortunate enough to be able to work in and associate with people who were completely a-political and really did not give politics or any current affairs item a second thought. Here, I think is where a lot of the younger candidates running don’t actually make a connection with any younger voters, as like me most of them probably cannot comprehend why anybody wouldn’t care?
Think about it and it begins to make sense-you joined the party in your first year of university, you ran a few campaigns, sat on the executive, then worked for an MLA/MP and now you’re a candidate in the local elections. This is how a lot of younger people in particular work their way up through a party these days and like every person’s experiences shapes how they view the world.
But, the key thing in beating apathy is to understand what causes it and for a lot of younger people spouting out the ‘if you don’t vote, you can’t complain’ line doesn’t work. Try to make that connection and understand why exactly they have stopped voting or in many cases not voted at all and make it your business to feed that back to your political parties.
It will be interesting to see how the youth turnout rate goes in this upcoming election. It is always good to see young people in parties and putting their hands up for elections but I just hope that for those who do go out into electoral battle actually keep in mind that the challenge of young people engaged and that means asking some hard questions about not just your opposition but of yourself also.
David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs