Young people are about one-fifth of the global population. However, they seem to have a decreasing influence on national politics, especially in more affluent democracies where voter turnout among the young is falling the fastest.

For example, less than half of under 25’s voted in Great Britain’s most recent general election and less than one-third in Switzerland’s. In the previous US midterm election in 2014, four-fifths of the same population stayed home.

Moreover, the gap is widening among the generations with older voters favoring formal political participatory venues such as traditional political parties and physical polling centers; and younger generations preferring informal political activities like engaging via social media and joining activism movements and protests.

Youth vote matters

Voting is essential to the functioning of a representative system and the sustainability of democratic values. If young people don’t vote democratic development hurts, even if they remain politically active elsewhere.

According to the Pew Research Center, in recent US elections, 22- to 29-year-olds are 6% of consistent voters compared to 30% of those 65 and older. Young people have issues which are unique to them, and their backgrounds and politicians respond to those who vote for them. Consequently, among all global democracies, the US has the most substantial gap between ages when it comes to voting.

In Mexico, for instance, young people played a pivotal role in the election of new Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

Assessing participation in the polls

There are a variety of reasons why young people are disengaged with elections. They may experience disillusionment with the current system, they do not feel morally obliged to vote, or they have not learned how to participate in making their vote counts actively.

While it is difficult to address the emotional aspects of youth electoral dissatisfaction, it is possible to assess what tools EMBs have to facilitate election cycle activities.

It is possible to make the logistics of voting more accessible and more inclusive with modern and secure and voting registration processes.  Many young people in the US reach the voting age when they are in college, which makes their registration challenging.

Campaigns to register students to vote on campus appear to have a positive effect on youth voter turnout, especially considering that in the 2008 elections 84% of those registered voters between the ages of 18 and 29 turned out to vote.  One successful example is a program to increase voter turnout among youth by Northwestern University, where new students have voting choices explained to them individually by peers and are assisted with registering.

Promoting the youth vote should not be an overwhelming task for EMBs. There are many effective strategies, proven not only in the US but worldwide, which include understanding the needs and expectations of these voters while promoting a productive flow of communication.

To guarantee the quality of global democracy, however, all election stakeholders must seek to break down any barriers to one of the most fundamental rights: a government based on the will of all the people, not just some of them.

Why is the youth vote a challenge for Democracy?