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The 2015 General Election: The Need for Young Voters to Participate

The 2015 General Election: The Need for Young Voters to Participate

By: Mohamed Deen

The forthcoming UK general election promises to be yet another enthralling battle for Westminster. Campaigning has been intense, and the party leaders have embarked on their usual crusade to convince voters. Various polls are pointing towards a hung parliament, meaning no single party will emerge with an absolute majority of seats in parliament. Voter turnout is expected to be reasonably high, as people exercise their democratic right; however, the turnout among young voters (18-24 year olds) is expected to be low, as young voters have been an ever-declining force in UK politics for several decades now.

The forthcoming UK general election promises to be yet another enthralling battle for Westminster. Campaigning has been intense, and the party leaders have embarked on their usual crusade to convince voters. Various polls are pointing towards a hung parliament, meaning no single party will emerge with an absolute majority of seats in parliament. Voter turnout is expected to be reasonably high, as people exercise their democratic right; however, the turnout among young voters (18-24 year olds) is expected to be low, as young voters have been an ever-declining force in UK politics for several decades now.

Less than half the number of registered young voters turned out to vote in recent elections. Only 44% of 18-24 year olds turned out to vote in 2010, 37% turned out to vote in 2005, while 39% turned out to vote in 2001. While there has been an increase in the number of young voters between 2005-2010, it remains below every other voting age group, for instance 76% of voters over 65 years old turned out to vote in 2010.

As a result of the fact that the pensioners are considered to be much more reliable than younger voters, they are more likely to be favoured by the politicians. This was evident in the proposal by David Cameron to end housing benefit for 18-21 year olds who are unemployed or not studying, if he wins the forthcoming election.

Interestingly, the Prime Minister is determined to protect the benefits of pensioners. He has vowed that even the wealthiest pensioners will get to keep their Winter Fuel Allowance, if he wins the election. The proposal to remove housing benefit from young people was described as a “disaster” by Campbell Rob, Chief Executive of the housing charity Shelter.

Young people need to participate in the political process by exercising their democratic right to vote. Voting will ensure that the politicians will give due consideration to young people when formulating policies. It will also ensure that social security benefits (such as Housing Benefit) are protected. In addition, it will ensure that young people participate in electing their local MPs, who will in turn fight for them on issues that are important to young people.

During the last five years, the UK economy has been in and out of recession. The government had to reduce spending in several departments such as: local councils, education, the Foreign Office, the Home Office, Defense etc. Nonetheless the magnitude of these budget cuts has been an issue of contention between the political parties. Regardless of what the politicians might say, elections are won and lost on the number of votes, and the politicians are much more likely to pander to the more reliable voting groups. Under such difficult economic situations, the demographic that is unlikely to vote could suffer the harshest cuts. This makes it imperative for young people to vote. 

The alarming apathy among young voters has led to concerns being raised in some quarters. Attempts are being made to arrest the decline in the number of young voters who participate in the electoral process. This has led to proposals being made to introduce compulsory voting. The merits of such proposals remains to be seen, but it is important that young people participate in the democratic process. 

The government can only obtain legitimacy through voting. It gives them the mandate to make decisions and govern the country. There is concern that the UK risks creating a ‘Divided Democracy’ as a result of the continuing voter apathy among young voters. Young voters must participate in the democratic process or risk being completely overshadowed by the pensioners, who are considered to be much more reliable voters. 

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