With the Prime Minister’s recent announcement about the snap election, it seems us Brits will be taking to the polling booths again on the 8th June. Though the accuracy of polls has been discredited over the past few years, we are apparently on course for a Conservative landslide. But the outlook could be significantly different if one factor changes – if more young people vote.
Young people don’t tend to turn out in as great a number as older generations. According to Electoral Commission figures, 44 percent of 18-24 year olds voted in the 2010 General Election, compared with 76 percent of those aged 65 and over. It is estimated 64 percent of 18-24 year olds voted in the EU Referendum, in stark comparison with 90 percent of those aged 65 and older (figures from Opinium). With 71 percent of 18-24 year olds voting to remain, the result could have been very different if young voters had turned out in similar numbers to pensioners (figures from You Gov).
Opinions for the reasons behind this low turnout range from apathy and disillusionment to anger and stupidity. Apparently young people are more interested in taking selfies, watching X-Factor and keeping up with the Kardashians than having their say on who represents them. These explanations just don’t wash with me. And yet the question remains, how can we encourage young people to vote?
As the parent of two young children, I believe the answer lies in engaging them when they are very young and maintaining this level of interest as they grow. Russell Brand interviews aside, if children are educated early on about the political landscape and their ability to influence it, they will be far more likely to vote when they come of age.
Parents hold the key to ensuring future generations of young people vote in significantly higher numbers than at present. Children are naturally curious and interested in the world around them, so it isn’t difficult to foster an interest in politics and current affairs. Here are a few suggestions as to how:
Take your children to the polling booth with you
When I voted in the last General Election and the EU Referendum, my daughter (aged five and six respectively each time) came with me. I explained to her all about the polling station and why I was going there. We discussed the Suffragettes and the notion of democracy, albeit in bitesize, age appropriate language. She was genuinely interested as well as extremely proud to be accompanying me as I cast my vote.
I intend to take her (and her brother when he’s slightly older) with me every single time I vote, until they’re old enough to mark their own crosses on the ballot paper.
Watch the news with your kids
As soon as CBeebies, Peppa Pig or any Disney film comes on, my children’s little eyes are glued to the screen. I’m sure your children are the same. But how about letting them watch the news? Even just the headlines at the top of the hour for a few minutes will be enough to spark their interest in world events. I believe children should know what is going on in the world and as parents it’s our duty to facilitate this knowledge.
Last year, my daughter and I watched David Cameron stand down as Prime Minister as it was happening. She had so many questions; I actually missed most of what Mr. Cameron was saying. Her window of interest only lasted a few minutes before Frozen had to go back on, but while it was there I made sure I capitalised on it.
If our children fall into the habit of watching the news and caring about what’s going on in the world around them, we set them up to be more socially conscious adults.
Make it fun
Young children love role play. My children play at doctors and nurses, mummies and daddies, teachers, police men, superheroes, witches and wizards… Their imagination knows no bounds. It’s entirely possible to draw on this love of creative play and turn voting into a game. Set up a polling booth, create ballot papers and get the whole family to vote on issues from what to have for dinner to where to go on Saturday afternoon.
Children learn by playing. This is an excellent way for them to discover not only why and how we vote, but also to understand that, even if the vote doesn’t go their way, we all have to abide by the results.
As children grow older, you can keep up the custom of family voting, by applying collective decision making to all important family choices and dilemmas.
Encouraging young people to vote is a hot topic as we hurtle towards General Election 2017. Political commentators estimate we will see another decline in the number of young voters. Suggestions such as compulsory voting, voting apps and more Russell Brand style interviews are often bandied about as possible solutions. There may be some merit in all of these; however I think we need to go further back. Starting them young with home and school education on voting and politics is surely the most effective way to guarantee our children will vote in the future.