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Political apathy: The poison that could deny an entire generation a political voice

04 05 22

Ahead the 5th May local elections, HOPE not hate research presents a stark warning about record levels of political mistrust and dissatisfaction amongst young people. 

As voters prepare to select their local government representatives in hundreds of council areas across the country, our poll finds that a majority (58%) of the country’s young voters believe that ‘politics is a waste of time because nothing changes’. For HOPE not hate, this is a hugely worrying continuation of years of the public feeling further and further detached from their politicians. Trust in political representatives, and the political system more broadly, has long been an issue, but has increasingly become the norm, especially amongst younger voters.

Political apathy is a core antifascist issue. When voters don’t feel they have a stake in the political system, it allows harmful extremes to exploit the system. The populist right weaponise failing public trust to push their hatred through an ‘anti-elite’ agenda. The far right thrives on low turnouts, a direct consequence of a system where voters don’t think there is a point in turning up to vote. 

Moreover, it’s not just apathy that could cause low turnout in these elections. As many as 42% of people aged 18-24 are not even aware that local elections are taking place this week. If politicians and parties aren’t speaking and listening to young people, and as our polling shows, 69% of 18-24 year olds do not think that politicians listen to them, then it’s not surprising that so many are unaware of the elections even taking place.

HOPE not hate is campaigning to encourage those who have registered to vote to ‘turn the tide’ and amplify the voices of the younger generation in politics.

This polling is deeply troubling and demonstrates that young people are not being listened to. This generation have grown up under austerity cuts, chronic underfunding of education and falsely concocted culture wars so it is little surprise that they now feel apathetic towards politics. 

The NEU has partnered with HOPE not hate to address the lack of awareness of local elections this year. We encourage everyone to get out and vote on 5 May. It is crucial that we make our voices heard loud and clear so that politicians of all stripes take notice of the opinions of our young people.
Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union

The poll, of a nationally representative sample of 1,010 18-24-year-olds living in Britain between 15 and 19 April 2022 carried out by Focaldata, also found that:

  • The majority (58%) of people aged 18-24 think getting involved in politics is a waste of time because nothing changes.
  • 69% of young people do not think that politicians listen to them, with only a small minority (9%) feeling like they are being listened to.
  •  Nearly half (48%) think that more young people would vote in elections if there are better policies for young people.
  • Over a quarter (27%) of young people said they are unlikely to vote in the local elections, with 16% of respondents saying they would be unlikely to vote if a general election was held tomorrow. 
  • Two fifths (44%) of young people say that they are not satisfied with the way democracy is working.

For too long, young people have been left on the side-lines of politics that will affect them for generations to come. We cannot let apathy become the poison that denies an entire generation a political voice.

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