One of the things we have been talking about at Policy Press is how we can do more to affect social change. Given that this is an election year our first area of focus is around increasing youth voter participation and so we are pleased to be supporting National Voter Registration Day today. Alison Shaw shares her thoughts on why Policy Press are supporting the campaign…
The Scottish Referendum in September last year had the highest voter turn out in recent history, with a staggering 84.59% of people voting. The election enabled 16 – 17 year olds to vote for the first time in the UK and over 100,000 of them turned out, shattering the idea that young people as a whole are disengaged by the political process.
Of course turning up at the polling station and making your mark in the voting booth is really the end point of a much longer journey – and one that starts with making sure that people are registered to vote.
Living in a democracy, as we do, voting is the main way in which we all have the power to make our voices heard. Consequently we’re supporting National Voter Registration Day (#NVRD) today. The campaign was set up in response to the lack of education and awareness around voter registration in the UK and last year NVRD registered 50,000 people. Raising the bar even higher, this year they have set a target of registering 250,000 people.
NVRD focus on encouraging young people to register to vote and a quick look at the figures show why this is such an important group to focus on. In the 1964 general election just over 76% of 18 – 24 year olds turned out to vote. By 2010 that figure had fallen to 52% – though that was at least up on the 38% of young people who had turned out to vote in the 2005 general election.
What worries me is the sense that we have moved from a position of action and activism in the sixties, to a place of increasing youth voter apathy from the nineties, to a position now, potentially, of actively choosing not to vote. Whilst influential celebrities such as Russell Brand have done a sterling job of putting politics into the spotlight for a more disengaged generation, the idea of actively not voting as a way to give voice to the opinion that those who govern us do not fully represent us, is deeply counterintuitive to me.
I believe that not voting is a way to give those who go on to govern us more power not less. The lack of an overall majority in the 2010 general election left us with a hung parliament, resolved by the coalition of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. In effect the Conservative party became the first party on the basis of achieving only 36% of the overall vote. By not voting, we effectively give politicians a mandate to do as they see fit, irrespective of whether that is in our best interests (and with a good chance that it won’t be).
Voting now is more important than ever. Since 2010 we have seen the rise and rise of austerity measures in politics and the impact that has on the lives of everyday people, including young people. Nearly 17% of 16 – 24 year olds are unemployed, and those who have opted to go to university will start their working lives with high levels of debt, and no guarantee of jobs when they graduate.
I believe we have a responsibility to be actively engaged in our democracy and to actively engage other people, including young people, in the process of democracy. What is positive is that we have access to more information, analysis and opinion on politics and policies today than we’ve ever had in modern history. And more than ever it would seem people are accessing this information from a variety of different sources, hungry for information they can trust.
The first step however is to make sure that people are registered to vote. Then, and only then, can we take the next steps to support them on that journey to the polling booth. We will be watching with interest today and engaging with bitetheballot.co.uk activities over the coming months, keeping you updated on our progress here. #TakePower #NVRD
If you enjoyed this, you may be interested in reading…
….the first in a new election series from the University of Bristol called Speakers’ Corner:
Speakers’ Corner: Have the Liberal Democrats lost the student vote?