by Cormac Hourigan
In 2017, the relationship between young people and politics is complicated
Waking up to Brexit and President Trump shook our generation into rethinking how we see the world. With post event poll data pointing to a generational divide, younger voters are now having to come to terms with a world that they did not vote for. For a generation that came of age with Obama’s election and its message of hope, that took freedoms made possible by the EU for granted, this new normal has created an atmosphere of anxiety. People, though, are taking action, standing up for the principles they feel were ignored in both votes.
We spoke to John Curtice, a Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University, Eliza Byard, the Executive Director of the Gay Lesbian Straigh Education Network and Patrick Harvie, co-convener of the Green Party, about their thoughts on the younger generation’s relationship with politics.
“There is no doubt there is a major social division underlying the outcome of the EU referendum.” says John Curtice.
“It was a division by age. Younger people voted overwhelmingly to remain, older people voted strongly to leave.”
This divide was just as prominent in the US. When you consider the voting intentions of 18-25 year olds in last year’s presidential election, almost every state turns from red to blue. This revelation was tweeted to thousands of people around the world by Eliza Byard.
“There are far more people in the United States who voted against what is happening now than who voted for it.” says Eliza. “This is an empowered minority seeking to impose its will.”
This empowerment has become possible thanks to the outdated electoral college system.
“Unfortunately,” Eliza explains, “the electoral system was designed originally to keep slaveholders in power, today it is doing that work ably.’
Patrick Harvie adds, “I think what’s clear in Scotland, the UK, Europe, America… in fact in much of the world, is that young people have been failed by a social, political and economic system that hasn’t met their interests and a great many young people feel a sense of hopelessness in terms of economic prospects, even the ability to get somewhere decent to live and to even think about starting a family of their own.’
He argues that the economic and political system needs to change and that young people need to be at the forefront of that change. As young people are facing unprecedented economic, political and ecological challenges, he offers some practical advice: “If you look at all of those things as just a heap of problems it can be bewildering, it can be dispiriting, but the incredible thing is when you start breaking these things down and finding things that you can do to address them you also find ways you can make your community a stronger place together.”
He added that young people can and should be represented in the political discourse, “getting involved in politics is no longer the preserve of ‘geeks’ or political anoraks. There is always room for one more.”
Ultimately young people shape the future, and if you want to ensure a more positive future then you have to ‘be the change’ you wish to see.