Mar 10, 2009

Generation Y and the Political Sphere

In school, in business, in their online communities, Generation Y is known as optimistic, idealistic, passionate, and eager to make a valuable contribution. But not in politics it seems. In the political sphere, they are perceived to be cynical, apathetic and disengaged. This is reflected in the voting statistics: in the 2001 and 2005 General Elections, of the 18-24 age group there was only a 39% and 37% turnout, respectively (as compared with a 60% turnout in 1997 which were the younger Generation X). Additionally, in 2005 16% of those aged 18-24 were not even registered to vote, as compared with 2% of voters over 65.

What is the reason for this apparent incongruence? Some reports state that the apparent lack of political interest is down to age – as one’s age increases, so does awareness of how political policies impact life’s decisions. However, this does not explain the sudden drop in voter turn-out between the 1997 and 2001 elections. The Electoral Commission (2005) and the IpsosMORI report (2008) argue that Generation Y cares about political issues, but feels powerless to make a difference.

Indeed, Generation Y has experienced a government that appears not to listen to its needs. For example, tuition fees have been publically and widely discredited, yet they continue to create a generation debt-ridden from the outset. Another example was the 2003 Iraq War, which incurred the biggest protest march in British history - the largest participating age-group being 18-24 year-olds, at 16%.

This is a tragedy, since the passion of Generation Y, plus its considerable size (7 million in the UK), suggests that political parties would benefit from engaging with this population. In the US, President Obama used social media to empower young people during his Presidential campaign, with outstanding results: Obama won the votes of those under 30 by 68% to 31%. Of the 10% new voters, 72% voted for Obama, and 69% of those under 30 also voted for Obama. This kind of engagement sounds like the optimistic and idealistic Generation Y we know and love. And it can work in the UK too: if empowered by a political party and encouraged to vote, Generation Y could prove a formidable force in the 2009 General Elections.

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