Inspiring the youth vote, even in general elections, has always been a struggle. The voting participation rate of younger voters in the United States, Britain and Europe lags significantly behind the older voting population and the trend has gotten worse over the past few decades. Had Britain’s youth voted at the same rate as older adults in the Brexit vote in 2016, the outcome would have been reversed.
There are differing theories about why young people don’t turn out at the polls, the most common being, that the youth contingent is too self-involved, pleasure seeking and ill-informed. Recent events, however, show that young adults, some not yet at voting age, will dedicate themselves tirelessly to a political issue that is personally meaningful to them. The aftermath of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida demonstrated that young people are not only willing to get politically active about an issue that moves them, they also have impressive abilities when they do get involved.
Developing the habit of voting is key and young adult lifestyles present some challenges here. They change addresses often, which means re-registering to vote with each move. Because young people are settling down later, they aren’t personally involved in community issues, such the excellence of schools, hospitals and recreational facilities. Youth voters may not feel inspired by the candidates on the ballot or feel their vote is meaningful.
In the United States, some states have made efforts to discourage certain sectors of potential voters from participating, requiring very specific identification or insisting that students must vote at the polling site associated with their permanent address, necessitating impractical travel on voting day.
Given that future leaders will emerge from today’s youth, their political participation is crucial. Making voting registration easy, and making sure youth understand the process and procedures of registering and voting, are good first steps. Education about the importance voting should begin in high school and continue through additional community efforts. Making better use of social media to inform and encourage youth participation is also a good strategy. Other approaches to boost youth voting include more use of personalized contact, more education about the power of the youth vote, and political events organized to appeal to the interests of young adults.
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