Why We Don’t Get What We Vote For

Why young people are not being represented and what they can do about it

Originally posted on Campus.ie

Pat Leahy wrote a piece in the Sunday Business Post, arguing that Fine Gael are going to war to get the “the middle-ground voters who feel they have a stake in society.”

Leahy didn’t say anything that wasn’t conventional wisdom. Representing other groups is nice, but at the end of the day, it’s the middle who will make or break a party.

We see this reflected in how the parties are campaigning. Each of their key issues speaks to the middle aged tax payer.

We also saw the same thing in the last budget, the budget which supposedly gave something to everyone, except to young people.

The 2011 Census showed there are about 350,000 people aged 13-18, and this group is now at prime university age, 18-23. There are also around the same number of people in the age group just above, aged 24-29. Therefore, more than 1 in 6 people is a ‘young person’.

You would then expect that about 1 in 6 policies would cater to young people, and so would 1 in 6 politicians.

While it goes without saying that young people are not a homogenous group, there are certain issues which affect us particularly which have passed notice and gone under the radar.

For example, while unemployment has been falling and now stands at 8.8%, youth unemployment is more than double that figure at 19.4%. We also face uncertain working conditions in a landscape where many young people are required to sometimes do multiple internships before securing paid unemployment.

It is becoming more difficult to attend third level education, both due to the cost of fees and to the unavailability and cost of accommodation for students. How much our degrees are worth has been falling along with the university rankings. And we saw recently that high numbers students are dropping out of higher education courses.

Young people also tend to be more liberal with regards to issues such as repealing the 8th amendment, and yet many major parties appear to be actively against a referendum, or refusing to discuss the issue in their manifestos.

It’s not just a case of not having all our issues being represented, but  where there appears to be an almost active disinterest in the issues specifically affecting young people.

Last April it was reported that there were 120,000 young people not registered to vote. The latest reports say that this number was reduced by two thirds after a huge drive to register young voters for the Marriage Equality referendum and the upcoming General Election.

However, it’s not enough to say we need to take young people seriously now because there are more of us registered to vote.

Being registered to vote doesn’t necessarily guarantee voting. While 85-90% of the population is registered to vote, voter turnout hovers around 69% for General Elections.

Additionally, there is a large perception that young people are generally apathetic and the group least likely to vote, a perception backed up by the figures. A CSO study found that while self-reported voter turnout for 18-24 year olds increased from 50% in 2002 to 62% in 2011, this compares to a self-reported turnout of 82% by the rest of the electorate.

Therefore politicians believe there is no point in working on behalf of young people because it won’t get them re-elected.

This is the reason one of the first Government promises broken (and, if you believe it, the Government kept 93% of its promises) was the pledge not to raise university fees.

It’s no coincidence that pensioners were arguably the group that received the most benefits out of the last budget. They are active and engaged, often in contact with their local and national representatives. Where the Government increased university fees, they rowed back on means testing medical cards for over 70s.

It’s assumed that the middle are the only people who have a stake in the Government, as if young people don’t care about the economy and employment, about the availability of quality, affordable housing, about having a decent healthcare system, about a woman’s right to choose, about refugees, about our transport and infrastructure, about crime, about justice, about anything.

While it may be perfectly logical not to vote as an individual, collectively it gives Government an excuse to ignore us and our issues. And it’s not enough to simply say young people’s votes should matter. It’s up to us to prove that we will use them.

If we want change, then we need to work for it. The General Election is the perfect opportunity to make ourselves heard. After all, decisions are made by those who show up.



Author: Liz O'Malley

Freelance journalist, sometime law student, political junkie, pasta addict.

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