Youth want more than two at the party

THERE has been much debate in Australia about Generation Y’s engagement in politics. Many argue that Australian youth are disinterested in, or ignorant of politics, and recently there has been a documented disconnect with political parties and formal politics to support this claim. Annie Lyon reports. Alternatively, there is also strong evidence to suggest that Gen Y is still interested in political issues and is simply seeking alternative forms of expression and involvement. Gen Y is steering away from a two-party system and is setting its sights on an evolved political model. Statistics from the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) illustrate a decline in the number of people aged between18-26 participating in state elections. Dr Ian Ward, political professor from The University of Queensland says, ‘the AEC, for the last decade has had great difficulty persuading 18 year olds to register to vote’.

Audio 1: Dr Ian Ward talks about a drop in Gen Y voting

A comparison of data from the 2009 and 2012 Queensland state elections shows that even though voting in Australia is compulsory, the number of 18-26 year old voters dropped by 0.8 per cent in three years.

AEC statistics

AEC state election statistics

Despite decreased voting amongst Gen Y, youth argue that they are still interested in political issues. Member for Longman and one of Australia’s youngest federal politicians, Wyatt Roy, says Gen Y is more aware of political issues than ever before. Likewise, Justine Elliot, Member for Richmond says that in her experience, youth are interested in getting involved in politics and making their voices heard. ‘There’s still a strong interest from young people who want to have their say in the direction of our community,’ she said.

The notion that Gen Y aren’t politically apathetic, but rather, are choosing to separate themselves from organised politics and express their political views in less conventional ways, is one that is commonly proffered by politicians and political commentators in Australia.

Audio 2: Dr Ian Ward’s view on Gen Y’s alternative approach to politics

Dr Ward believes that ‘the issues with which the Government deals are sufficiently challenging and sufficiently relevant to warrant young people taking an active interest’. This argument, coupled with Gen Y’s professed political interest, begs the question of why youth are steering clear of political parties and organized politics. According to representatives from Gen Y, there are three dominant possibilities for their indifference to formal politics: social media, disillusionment with political parties, and a marginalisation from the political process. Young Labor member, Andrew Lamb accredits the decline in youth joining political parties to technology. He says a lot of young politically motivated people are more inclined to use social media to voice their concerns and opinions than join political parties. Brittany Macdougall explores the increasing role of social media in political communication in her article ‘Engaging the Disengaged.’ A survey of Brisbane youth, conducted for the purposes of this report, indicates that Gen Y’s disengagement with organized politics can be attributed to disillusionment with our major political parties.

Results from youth survey

Results from youth survey

Results from youth survey

Of the 81 youth interviewed, only 9 per cent were members of a registered political party, and 67 per cent said they could never see themselves joining one. Only 30 per cent of interviewees said that they agree or strongly agree with the statement that there is a political party that reflects their opinions and beliefs. Assistant section editor of politics and society at The Conversation, Michael Courts, says youth are disengaged with political parties because politicians fail to inspire them. ‘When was the last time a politician genuinely made you stand up and applaud because of what they’ve said, because of what they’ve done?’ he said. Gen Y is uninspired by the dirty tactics and in fighting employed by federal politicians. Oliver Michael examines the effect this has on the Australian Labor Party in his article ‘Turbulent times ahead for the ALP.’ Mr. Roy believes that the fractured state of the federal government results in Gen Y feeling disappointed in the political process. ‘I wouldn’t say that they’re disinterested in politics, I would say that they feel let down,’ he said. Young Liberal National Party member, Madolyn Obst says: ‘How much money are we paying these people per year to run our country and they’re spending their time arguing about who is going to be at the top of the tower. It’s a mess.’ A second contributing factor to Gen Y’s disengagement with political parties is the suggestion that youth are alienated in Australian politics. The Queensland State Director of Left-Right Think-Tank, Brody Foy says: ‘I think that youth are quite marginalised in politics currently and are only really taken seriously on classical ‘youth’ issues, such as climate change, asylum seekers, and marriage rights.’ According to Mr. Foy, a growing number of young Australians are opting to join independent groups rather than established political parties because they see them as an opportunity to voice their political concerns where they will actually be heard. Left-Right Think-Tank, which is a non-partisan group made up of young people who are dedicated to representing the voice of Australian youth in public policy, is an example of the unconventional political options youth are exploring. While the topics that the government cast as stereotypically ‘youth’ are important to Gen Y, Mr. Foy says that political parties need to stop trying to connect with young people about ‘youth-only issues’ and start treating youth the same way that they do older demographics.   skitch_iphoto.export.skitch The responses of Gen Y representatives surveyed for this report demonstrate that political issues concerning the economy are more important to them than social issues like gay marriage. Mr. Foy says: ‘I think that youth opinions on issues outside of the aforementioned spectrum need to be explored more and taken more seriously by the government and media.’ To Min Bolten, a political science and anthropology student from The University of Sydney, issues pertaining to tertiary education: such as quality of education; quality of the people who provide that education; and accessibility to quality education; are important to a large portion of Gen Y. Ms Bolten says: ‘I don’t know that that is generally cast by the government as an issue that youth care about, but I certainly know that it is.’ Both Ms Bolten and Mr. Foy are representative of a generation that is disillusioned with the way that the government casts a set of stereotypical youth issues.

Audio 3: Min Bolten discusses what concerns Australian youth

A common idea among political commentators in Australia is that Gen Y’s disillusionment has a significant consequence on attitudes towards the country’s political structure. According to the Secretary of the Young Labor Party, Chloe Moss, people are less likely to be firm supporters of one party or the other. ‘I do think people are becoming increasingly disillusioned with the sort of two-party system that we have,’ she said. Generation Y is interested in political issues, but is reluctant to become involved in organised politics. Mr. Courts says: ‘I’m more interested in issues than looking at the world through the scope of a political party.’ ‘I prefer to look at an issue and decide on it from my knowledge, my values.’

Dr Ward elaborates on the argument that youth are moving away from organised politics and suggests that they are also moving away from democracy. He says political processes and establishments worldwide are failing, and as such, people are beginning to look for alternative solutions.

Audio 4: Dr Ian Ward discusses Gen Y’s move away from democracy

Research for this report explicitly contradicts Dr Ward’s argument and confirms that democracy is actually very important to Gen Y. Results from youth surveyMs Obst says: “Democracy is really exciting. It doesn’t matter who you vote for, democracy and being able to vote and have a role is so exciting’. Ms Bolten contradicts Dr Ward’s argument. ‘I wouldn’t say youth are steering clear of democracy. I would, however, say that in order for our democratic system to live up to its ideals and work effectively, all Australians, including young people, should have their opinions heard,’ she said. The ability of youth to openly express their opinions is considered by many political commentators to be essential to the democratic process. Ms Moss says: ‘I think it’s really important for the senior party to hear from young people and know what young people are thinking.’   Mr. Foy asserts that to glean greater involvement and interest of youth in Australian politics there needs to be a change from the system that currently facilitates the dominance of the big two. His vision for the future involves ‘a system with mixed-member proportional representation voting, with much less media spin and negativity in government, and less tendency towards a two party system’. Ms Bolten says, ‘youth aren’t going to be involved in politics, they aren’t going to vote, not if their choice is essentially limited to either Labor or Liberal’. Newly elected President of the Queensland Young Labor party, Michael Watt supports these views. ‘I think people are moving away from politics and the Labor party and Labor movement because the whole process is very old fashioned,’ he said. Mark Lord examines the state of the Young Labor party in light of the currently fractured state of federal its senior party in his article ‘Growing pains for the comeback kids of Young Labor’. Young people in Australia are politically motivated. They want to be heard and they want to influence public policy. However, many feel excluded from the political process due to the fact that the major political parties and politicians don’t resonate with youth and appear to be indifferent to their needs and interests. They feel isolated from the political process and feel that their opinion on issues outside of those stereotypically assigned to them is either ignored or patronised. As a result, many are turning to other avenues to have their say. With the advent of social media young people are challenging traditional party alignment as they explore and develop new ways of engagement and participation in the political agenda. Rather than a reliance on traditional party involvement young people are adopting new ways and modes of expressing their political opinions.

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  1. […] More analysis on this topic can be found in journalist Annie Lyon’s recent story. […]

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