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Opinion: Young people don't vote? You may be right, but we might surprise you

Without a willingness to inform ourselves and vote, we simply have no leg to stand on, write Adam Hallissey and Ben Quigley, creators of Progressivebrief.com.

Adam Hallissey and Ben Quigley

WHEN BECOMING INVOLVED in politics at a tender age, you are quickly informed of a long-standing stereotype painting a caricature of the average adolescent as being misinformed, disengaged or, oftentimes, simply disillusioned with the political process.

It leads to figures such as Marie Louise O’Donnell voicing opinions which discourage young people from even entering the political debate, with the independent Senator remarking during a Seanad discussion on reducing the legal age to vote, “I would suggest that you stay away from politics. It’s quite sacrilegious of me to say that.”

O’Donnell and other critics propose that young people, instead of becoming politically involved, are better served by focusing instead on their socialising and hobbies.

90402049 Senator Marie Louise O'Donnell is one opponent of people under 18 voting, saying in the Seanad in 2018: Young people should stay away from politics. Source: Leah Farrell

What they fail to recognise, however, is that it would be a privilege for young people to allow themselves to remain oblivious to the news of the world, but climate change threatens our very existence, the exacerbation of income inequality reduces the promise of our economic mobility and the budgets drafted in the Dáil affect the quality of education, healthcare and infrastructure that will be available to us in the future.

Perhaps the reason why recent polling carried out by The Institute for Conflict Research in the UK on Ireland and Northern Ireland, suggests young people in Ireland lack faith in their political institutions, is not an unwavering rebellious nature inherent in the youth, but rather a desperate reaction to constantly being denied our respected place in meaningful discourse.

We recently penned an in-depth reaction to Budget 2020 for our publication and were invited to Leinster House by Senator Gerard Craughwell to network and discuss our findings and how we became interested in politics.

8BBBB866-6FFC-408C-BB95-D177AC4F41AB Hallissey and Quigley were invited to Leinster House after offering an analysis of Budget 2020.

During our conversation, the Senator made one thing clear – the need for young people to step up to the plate and prove those who doubt their competence in the political arena wrong.

But, there is a problem

Recent Red C polling conducted in 2014 for the National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI) confirms problems do exist – 43% of those aged between 18 and 21 were not yet registered to vote while 46% of those aged between 18 and 24 who were registered to vote in the 2014 European and Local Elections did not.

With the run-up to the 2020 general election in mind, it would be imprudent of young people to overlook the fact that politicians trade in votes; votes are the currency of their market.

They are more likely to focus on subsections of society which display disproportionately higher levels of general election voter turnout than those that do not – the principal case in point being Fianna Fáil’s 2008 backtracking of removing medical cards from pensioners following their well organised, widely covered nationwide protests.

Young people remaining immobilised and civically disengaged only allows elected officials the opportunity to negate their responsibilities to their younger constituents and without a willingness to inform ourselves and vote, we simply have no leg to stand on.

Those young people who fail in their democratic duty to vote hold a profound influence over the image of the voting bloc as a whole, and how young people are treated by political representatives as a result.

An article outlining a random survey of 50 young people including 30 who voted is likely to prioritise coverage of the 20 who didn’t.

The idea is very simple; if we want politicians to recognise and act upon the issues that impact younger citizens specifically, a good start would be to get as many young people as possible to register to vote and to turn up on election day.

The new electoral register, however, which encompasses all of those who have registered to vote in the past eight months becomes valid on 15 February. As such, the only way for many potential first-time voters recently registered to guarantee their ability to vote is through the supplemental register.

Some are stepping up

Some young people, however, are taking their democratic responsibilities even more seriously than merely voting, with some having reputable chances of winning a seat.

At the age of 21, for example, Trinity college scholarship recipient Tate Donnelly is running for the Green party in the Cavan-Monaghan constituency, while 22-year-old Cllr James O’Connor is representing Fianna Fáil in Cork-East.

While both may plan on harnessing the power of online activism to their advantage, a word to the wise is offered; during the lead-up to the recent UK general election, there were two divided opinions on how the result was likely to transpire.

queens-speech-2019 UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. In the recent election, one camp, the establishment, hinted at a Conservative majority. The other, social media-based, predicted a Corbyn landslide. Source: Kirsty Wigglesworth

One camp, the media establishment and majority of reputable polling organisations, hinted at a Conservative majority being likely, with multiple Tory gains forecast in previous Labour strongholds.

The other estimation of the likely outcome was seen through a monumental social media wave of pronouncements and predictions, usually anecdotally based, revolving around a Labour revival occurring with Jeremy Corbyn likely to secure a surprise victory.

Some even went as far as claiming the outgoing PM Boris Johnson’s seat in Uxbridge and South Ruislip to be in danger, whilst he further increased his majority by over 2,000 votes.

The result was a partial reaffirmation of the legitimacy of the media and polling establishment and, in all truth, hinted at a naivety of the ‘online generation’ and its capacity to place all of its trust in a decentralised form of political gossip.

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Let’s buck this trend

Election day on 8 February and the extensive run-up to it over the next few weeks presents us, Ireland’s youth, with an opportunity to rewrite the rulebook.

By using social media to actually engage, inform and debate rather than merely follow the herd’s various meme-related mutterings we are offered the chance to discredit claims of young people being uninformed and uninterested.

Higher levels of voter registration and turnout offer us the opportunity to send a message to our elected officials that we care and command a hearing.

And, finally, the combination of young people getting involved, voting and running for election presents us with a platform upon which we can build a more mobilised and influential voting bloc for the sake of our futures.

Those who neglect their utmost democratic responsibility by foregoing the right to vote are thereby simultaneously sacrificing their right to complain.

Adam Hallissey and Ben Quigley are the 19-year-old founders of The Progressive Brief, an international political analysis source. Both currently study at University College Cork pursuing degrees in Law and Business and Economics respectively. www.progressivebrief.com @progressbrief (Twitter)

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