According to the European Social Survey, in 2010, 61 % of young respondents aged 22-29 stated that they voted in the last national elections, as opposed to the 78.1 % of over 30-year-olds. Yet, as Eurobarometer surveys reveal, even though they vote less than older adults, young people do believe – more than older generations – that voting is an effective way of influencing decision-making (at local, national or European levels).
There are of course acknowledged reasons for the low electoral turnout of young people. Changing perceptions of citizenship – due to processes of globalisation, individualisation, consumption and competition – is one important factor. Another reason is related to feelings of exclusion from traditional ways of influencing political decision-making, as also explained in another Eurydice Youth Report on social exclusion.
Whatever the reason why young people vote less than older generations it is clear that, if other measures are considered, their political participation is not in decline. Young people are over-represented in the use of alternative, so-called ‘new’ forms of political participation, such as expressing their opinion on the internet or in social media channels.
Nonetheless, discrepancies persist between what is done and what is considered useful: the share of young people actually thinking that these new forms of expression are effective is relatively small. To the question ‘which two ways of ensuring that one’s voice is heard by decision-makers are best’, young people chose voting as the most effective means (47 %), followed by demonstrations and strikes in second place (18 % and 17 % respectively). Party membership and signing petitions (both 13 %) come next in young people’s list.
Hence, contrary to popular belief, young people are not less politically active than older generations, even in times of rising youth unemployment and social exclusion. They engage in alternative, new forms of political participation. Yet, despite favouring these forms of activity, young people are not convinced that their actions are effective in influencing decision-makers. Perhaps this will change as decision-makers themselves react increasingly to such new forms of political engagement?