Apathy

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One of the biggest problems facing British politics is apathy. People seem disengaged from politics to the point that they just don’t bother voting, like in the South Shields by-election last year where 39% of people votes or the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner election earlier this year which had a turnout of just 10%. The problem is that when you are elected with only 5% of the electorate backing you, it makes it difficult to claim that you have any kind of mandate because 95% of people voted against you or didn’t vote at all.

Apathy is particularly prevalent among young people. Just before the 2010 general election, the Electoral Commission reported that 56% of 17-24 year olds were not on the electoral roll. In the actual election, 51% of under 25s voted, but this is attributed to a surge in support for the Liberal Democrats and expected to go down at the next general election. Meanwhile, almost 75% of pensioners voted, a figure which has been almost the same for the past fifty years. So why are young people the most likely to be apathetic?

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To try and gain and range of thoughts and opinions about apathy from young people, I decided to interview and few people about whether they would vote or not, who for, why, and whether they think apathy is a problem.

The first person that I interviewed was Matt Doyle, who seemed quite eager to vote, but thought that the education system was to blame:

If you could vote, would you?

Yes, I would vote without a doubt.

What party do you support and why?

Conservatives, because that’s who my family support so I’ve grown up with conservative views 

Here we can see a major influence on how young people vote. If you have been around people with conservative views for all of your life, then it is quite likely that you will continue to hold some of them as you grow up.

Although you would vote Tory, are you upset with the three main parties?

Yes. For being argumentative. They should all get along. Especially how incompetent Ed Miliband is.

Another big issue with the voters is the party leader. With the creation of the internet and social media, politicians are now watched constantly. So if, like Ed Miliband, you have embarrassing photos taken of you, that will spread across the world and damage your reputation. Furthermore, party leaders are the public face of their party, so if they have a bad reputation then people will be less likely to vote for their party.

Do you feel engaged in politics?

Not that much. I feel if the voting age was lowered I’d pay more attention.

Do you feel you have been educated enough about politics?

No. The education of politics is poor at schools. 

How would you change it?

Compulsory politics at secondary school up to GCSE.

Could anything be done to make you feel more interested?

Increasing the amount we are taught about it at school.

Matt has identified two key areas: the voting age and the education system. Many people think that lowering the voting age will encourage people to get involved sooner.Both the Liberal Democrats and Labour have pledged to lower the voting age, should they be elected. More on the education system later.

The next person I interviewed was James Turner:

If you could vote, would you?

Yeah

What party do you support and why?

UKIP, because I like the idea of stricter borders

Are you upset with the three main parties?

Yeah

Why?

Just because when they have had power in the past they didn’t do too well

Another big issue when it comes to voting is the record of the parties. At the last election, the Liberal Democrats got 25% of the votes, at the next election they set to get around 10% because do not trust them after tuition fee fiasco. A similar thing was seen, albeit to a lesser extent, with Labour and the Iraq War.

Do you feel engaged in politics?

Yeah, it’s pretty interesting

Do you feel you have been educated enough about politics?

Not really

The education system makes another appearance, it seems to be a common theme.

Could anything be done to make you feel more interested?

No, I don’t think so

Like Matt, James seemed to focus on the education system.

The final person I interviewed was fellow writer and politics student Ben Dean-Titterrell:

If you could vote, would you?

Yes

What party do you support and why?

Labour. I identify myself as left wing and liberal politically

Do you feel engaged in politics?

Yes, but only because I’m interested in it personally

This also seems to be a common theme among the people I have interviewed. They are all interested in politics, but only because they have strong personal views.

How would you change it?

I would introduce political education as part of the curriculum 

The education system makes yet another appearance.

Could anything be done to make you, or young people in general, more interested?

Me? No. Other people? Have people of a younger generation who are already interested in politics try and get others engaged, they may feel patronised by older people telling them about politics. 

This is an interesting point. Young people may turn away from politics because they feel patronised by politicians. Indeed, I have seen many television programmes aimed at people of my age which are incredibly condescending.

Using these interviews, and some other factors, I can now produce and list of reasons of why people are apathetic and some proposals to make people more engaged.

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There are many reasons for apathy among young people. Some of them are simple and trivial, others are complex and require careful examination and big changes to fix. In this section, I will talk about these reasons and try to explain how they could be fixed.

1. The Weather – it may sounds quite silly, but there is evidence to suggest that public will are less likely to vote in bad weather because they cannot be bothered to go to the polling station. Obviously, this only affects a small proportion of electorate and nothing can be done about it because it is impossible to predict the weather.

2. Lack of Education – in my experience of the education system, politics is only taught as an option in secondary school; there’s not much compulsory education of it. This is problematic, because it leads to a whole generation of young people who reach 18 not knowing anything about politics. So, come Election Day, they either vote for some random candidate or they don’t vote at all. It is better to teach people about politics and political issues because then, when they reach 18, they will know about the parties and their views in detail, so they will be able to make an informed decision.

3. Disenfranchisement – a large proportion of people feel like their vote just doesn’t count. They might be a Labour supporter in a safe Tory seats, they might support the Greens in a place where it’s impossible for them to break them to break through. So, they just don’t vote. This could be solved in two ways: proportional representation and education. Proportional representation would allow smaller parties to break through, so there are less wasted votes. However, after the defeat of the Alternative Vote referendum in 2011, it is unlikely the voting system will be an important issue for many years. Education was discussed above.

4. Lack of Engagement – this is another major problem. There are people who are just not engaged in politics and feel that politicians are not interested. There is some truth to that. Politicians are most likely to appease old people, by raising pensions for example, because they are more likely to vote. Therefore, it is a self-perpetuating problem. Politicians won’t pay attention because there are no votes to win, and this makes young people even less likely to vote. Only young people can stop this. They need to vote and show the politicians that they are a powerful voting group, and they deserve attention.

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There are many, many factors which cause young people to be apathetic. Some of them can be changed by the government, such as the education system and the voting age. But other require young people to take a leap of faith, to vote en masse and show their strength so that politicians cannot ignore them. However, only time will tell whether young people ever feel engaged.

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