Editor’s Note: This op-ed was written by a member of The Herring’s staff writing team, and edited by the editorial board. The views and opinions expressed within it are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Herring.
By Miles Henderson
Walking past Maslow this September, one might not have noticed the inconspicuous poster urging United States citizens to register for the vote. Printed on a single sheet of A4 and coloured in dark navy, its effort seemed lackluster. An effort that appears to be reflected in the demographic it was aimed at.
You may have guessed it already. That demographic is us – young adults.
If one was to look online, young adults give the impression of being politically engaged. For instance, to many in our generation KONY 2012 is instantly recognisable. In an infamous viral video that now has more than 100 million views and 1,3 million likes, the Invisible Children organisation laid out a plan to bring Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony to justice by covering the streets with bright red posters in the dead of night, hoping to bring attention to their cause.
The date was set for April 20, 2012. On Facebook, tens of thousands of participants joined pages to support local chapters of the big event. Students changed their profile pictures to reflect their support for the movement. According to an article from The Guardian in 2012, hundreds of thousands of people registered to participate in the UK alone. There was massive enthusiasm online. Nonetheless, the next morning people were surprised to see that there was little sign of Kony in their cities. In London, where more than a thousand participants were registered, only thirty-five were present.
If only a fraction of registrations translated into real participation, then we need to ask ourselves if online awareness results in any impactful consequence amongst young adults.
This pattern of superficial interest and low engagement is supported by election data. In a survey conducted by Ipsos, total voter turnout in the Dutch parliamentary elections of 2012 was 82 percent, compared to only 70 percent for voters between the ages of 18-24. Worse still, turnout in last year’s elections was even lower at 66 percent for young voters.
This is not just an issue in the Netherlands, it is a consistent trend within democracies worldwide. In the U.S., census figures show that voter turnout in the 2016 presidential elections was only 46 percent for ages 18-29, the lowest of any demographic.
The situation is even more dire in France, where the European Commission states that just 26 percent of young French voters cast their ballots. According to Politico, before the second round of French presidential elections, young Parisians burned electoral cards and even protested the validity of a French democracy with posters that exclaimed “Ni Patrie, Ni Patron. Ni Le Pen, Ni Macron.” Maybe it’s angsty contrarianism, or possibly apathy dosed with misinformation – either means the system will be broken, and young voters vastly underrepresented.
Raiyu Hirayama, a first-year Humanities major, indicated the same trend of low engagement amongst young adults is experienced in Japan. Hirayama, who interned for a Japanese political campaign, told a story of a car ride with a politician he had been campaigning for. After asking what he thought of our generation, the politician responded cynically, describing our age group as irrelevant. Hirayama said, “They don’t want to waste money campaigning to people they know won’t vote.”
So, where do the students of Amsterdam University College (AUC) stand in the polls? Here are some findings from a short survey conducted with 81 respondents:
- 95% of respondents were eligible to vote.
- For those asked to rate their interest in politics on a scale of 1-5, 96% selected 3 or above. 83% selected 4 or above.
- For those asked to rate their confidence in the voting process on a scale of 1-5, 84.1% indicated a confidence of 3 or above. 16% indicated a confidence of 2 or below.
- For Dutch respondents eligible to vote, 77% voted in a recent election.
- For non-Dutch respondents eligible to vote, 73% voted in a recent election.
- Total voter turnout is 75%, for a recent election.
The total voter turnout is marginally better than the average for our demographic in the Netherlands. While this may seem a small victory, ultimately, AUC students have broken a shameful trend of apathy – choosing not to be ignored by those who have a vested interest in representing the powerful, the outdated, the status quo – by becoming active participants in a system that can, and will, represent you.