If you enjoy memes, you may have recently seen the one about elections that is currently making the rounds. It displays a bar graph titled ‘Probability of Getting Fooled – April Fools v Election Day’ with the bar of the Election Day far outstripping the more obvious answer. When it comes to politics, everyone seems to have an opinion. In the Western world, politics has been viewed as the realm in which there exists a very real opportunity to achieve true political freedom, justice, peace and security.
However, many potential young voters seem to believe that their vote won’t make a difference. Not only that, some choose to disengage with the political process due to indifference or unintended ignorance of the issues. Added to this, young people often share the mentality that regardless of who they vote for, their lives will remain the same. They do not view electoral politics as a potential instrument for change, but as a corrupt swamp where change is unlikely to occur.
There are a number of general challenges facing youths in the political arena. First, they struggle to find a political party that represents their aspirations and thoughts. However, youths must realise that in order to be heard in these institutions, they must put themselves out there. Consequently, most youths prefer to distance themselves equally from all political parties than to invest in a single one.
Instead, many prefer to volunteer in NGOs where they can observe the direct impact of their actions on the community. Today’s youth also value intellectual independence which would be diminished by forced adherence to a political ‘party line’.
Many potential young voters seem to believe that their vote won’t make a difference
According to UNDP, the average age of politicians worldwide is 53 years of age. Some young people argue that this is another reason they are put off participating in politics. However, that does not excuse inaction. They must realise that if they do not stand up and voice out their concerns, they are actually allowing someone else – from a different generation – to speak on their behalf.
This polluted outlook on formal politics has reinforced the prevalent stereotype that paints young people as disengaged and apolitical. This may be the case, but we have to realise that policies that affect you, me and everyone else comes from politics – the only way to fight bad politics is by exercising good politics. We have to be the change that we want to see and stop leaving it for someone else to clean up the mess.
Complaining and reasoning are among the easiest things to do, but standing up for what we believe is more worth our time. People like Malaysian Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq, Australian Senator Jordan Steel John and Swedish Parliamentarian Ebba Hermansson have proven that there is a place for young people in politics. This generation must strive to truly challenge societal norms that may impede their path towards to influence.
It may sound difficult, but that means it is time to step up. True leaders are tested when times are tough and they do not leave when things start falling apart. Instead, they chose to redefine, reimagine and re-establish the obstacles that stand in their way. This generation is already maligned as fragile, but we have to continue to stand our ground until it becomes obvious this label is false.
Right now, around the world, young people are volunteering themselves more than ever before, displaying their passion for their communities, societies and countries. Thus, it’s not that the youth are apathetic, but rather that they lack faith in their political system. Maybe that is so because they do not exactly understand the system due to a lack of civic education.
Politics can be rough-and-tumble and unforgiving to perceived ‘troublemakers’
Perhaps it’s a question of demographics: conventional politicians do not attempt to win youth votes, simply because they represent a lower proportion of the population. This can unfortunately leave education policy on the backburner. Where access to formal education is lacking, self-education must fill the vacuum.
Initiatives such as the Model United Nations (MUN), Youth Parliament and Asia-Europe Meetings allow young people to get involved in activities that reinforce self-education. It also allows them to connect with one another and explore other cultures.
Socioeconomic status is another factor that contributes to the low political engagement seen in younger generations. Young people from higher socioeconomic strata tend to converse more about politics than those who come from a lower one. This comes down to the latter having other worries that may push politics to the back of their minds.
Politics can be rough-and-tumble and unforgiving to perceived ‘troublemakers’. You may find yourself being pushed out. Fortunately, history shows that those ‘troublemakers’ are the ones who forged the progress we enjoy today. To create a better world, young people need to become the political actors that they wish to see in the world.