/Want to engage young people in the election? Heres where to start – ABC Life

Want to engage young people in the election? Heres where to start – ABC Life

Your child’s in their teens or early 20s. They’re passionate about music, new sneakers, saving for a trip. But when you start talking about this Federal election, your kid gives you a blank look, or turns up the car radio.

Sound familiar?

Research shows that in 2019, young people really do care about advocacy issues and non-electoral politics.

But when it comes to electoral politics (the process of actually choosing between various candidates and parties), 18 to 25-year-olds sometimes lack faith that politicians are working in their best interests, or struggle to make the link between the issues they care about and how to vote accordingly.

If you’re keen to help get younger Australians informed and excited about voting this election, here’s where to start.

Ask what they’re interested in

It sounds simple, but helping a young person engage with electoral politics can start with a one-on-one conversation about an issue that directly relates to their life.

“You know how you care about the cost of going to uni, or you don’t get paid a lot at your part-time job, or you’re worried about the road out the front of your house?” asks Becc Brooker, a 25-year-old volunteer with YMCA Victoria’s youth services.

“Go from there.

Climate change, access to mental health services, education, LGBT rights, transport, and human rights relating to asylum seekers and refugees are just some of the issues young people are often passionate about. (The topics of franking credits and negative gearing, on the other hand, might be less interesting conversation-starters for your 20-year-old friend).

Signs at the March 15 2019 climate strike
Image More 18-24-year-olds took part in a protest in 2016 than in any election year in the previous 30 years, the ANU’s latest Australian Election Study found. This has continued, with thousands of students attending climate strikes in March 2019.(Twitter: AYCC)

Leo Fieldgrass served as chief executive officer of the Youth Affairs Council of Victoria until February 2019. He suggests asking: “‘Did you see that thing in the news? This is what I think it means for me, what do you think it means for you?'”

“The more often you have conversations about those issues, the more often people feel that they understand them, and the more often they will feel that entering into that conversation is an easy thing to do, and they actually have something to say about that issue,” he says.

Guide them to online resources

One stumbling block your young person might face is understanding each party’s position on the issues they care about.

“In our current climate it’s too hard for young people to discern the pathways between, ‘I believe in X and therefore I can vote for Y’,” says Ms Brooker.

Becc Brooker teaching youth
Image Becc Brooker of YMCA Youth Services says getting younger people to engage in electoral politics is about “making it really relatable and personal”.(Supplied)

Mr Fieldgrass adds: “Young people are definitely politically engaged, [but] they might not see that the particular campaign or advocacy issue they want to support is a political issue.”

If you’d like to help guide your young person to make that connection, try looking with them at the websites and resources the Electoral Commission produces, suggests Zareh Ghazarian, a political scientist in the School of Social Sciences at Monash University.

“The state and federal Electoral Commissions have wonderful resources,” he says.

You might also try directing them to Vote Compass.

You could help the young person navigate to some non-party affiliated sites relating to the issues they care about and checking what they’re saying about the candidates, recommends Ms Brooker.

Three young people looking at something on a laptop screen
Image Some young people are passionate about certain advocacy issues but have trouble “connecting the dots” to which political party would best reflect their stance on those issues, experts say.(Unsplash)

Websites such as They Vote For You also allow users to search for individual politicians’ policy positions, which could help your young person decide who to vote for.

Gursewak Singh is a 21-year-old Youth Affairs Council Victoria member. He suggests simply directing people to the policy platforms available on each party’s respective websites.

Discuss the dollar value of their vote

Another approach that might work: Reminding the person that by voting, they’re actually helping allocate money to a particular candidate or party.

The idea is to get them thinking about whether they’d be happy with their money going in a particular direction.

As Ms Brooker points out, the young person might then think: “I wouldn’t give a dollar to this MP if they were walking past me on the street, so why would I give it to them now?”

Show how their lives rely on government

If the young person in your life takes the view that politics has no impact on them, it might be worth mentioning that governments are already involved in many aspects of their life they might not appreciate — such as a legal system that promises a fair trial, protection of the right to protest and free public education.

“For previous generations, the effect of government on their lives was very clear — the Depression and the world wars are prominent examples,” Dr Ghazarian says.

“Whereas I think the current generations, they find it hard to see that because a lot of the mechanisms of government are actually hidden. And as we’d soon learn if they stopped working, governments are still doing a lot in infrastructure and education.”

Gursewak
Image Gursewak Singh, a 21-year-old Youth Affairs Council Victoria member, has a message for other young people: “We should be in there ensuring that politics does work for us.” He’s pictured here at a Model Parliament in Ottawa, Canada.(Supplied)

If the young person has been travelling, you could point out that the differences they see in terms of quality of infrastructure are often down to government spending.

“It’s worth remembering that we all get to drive on roads that are safe and we don’t have to pay people off, and a lot of the systems we use actually function pretty well,” Dr Ghazarian says.

Remind them to check their enrolment details

Your next point of engagement involves asking two simple questions: Are you registered to vote, and have you checked your details are up to date?

Keep in mind that even if your young person vaguely intends to vote, their plans can easily be waylaid by out-of-date details on the electoral roll.

“A lot of young people will move around because of work, or because they’re moving out of home or away studying,” says Mr Fieldgrass. “It’s really important to know that you’re on the electoral roll.”

Help them feel empowered

Young woman looking happy and engaged at a protest
Image Asking about their interests, sharing online resources and discussing the dollar value of their vote can boost a young person’s interest in electoral politics.(Unsplash)

Above all, encouraging young people’s political participation is about building confidence and helping them see that they have an important role in the Australian political process.

It’s worth reminding your young person that they can have an enormous political impact: 18 to 25-year-olds have largely determined the outcome of four recent Federal elections, leading one study to describe them as “the most electorally influential demographic” in Australia.

But many young people feel they are not well equipped to cast a vote, according to the latest National Assessment Program for Civics and Citizenship results, which indicates that less than 50 per cent of Year 10 students from across Australia received a “proficient” standard.

That’s why it’s more important than ever that “they should feel empowered [and understand that] the system is there to serve them. They have a real capacity to change,” Dr Ghazaraian says.

It’s about helping the young person in your life understand that “they are not some bystanders, they can play a really active part”.

As Mr Singh puts it:

“When people say, ‘Politics doesn’t work for us, it doesn’t cater to our needs,’ I tend to say, ‘Well, we should be in there ensuring that it does work for us.’