It has often been claimed that both the apathy of young voters is partially to blame for recent political events, and that our voice is the only hope for Britain. Yet while parties jockey to win the allegiance of students, the policies included in manifestos seem to largely cater towards an established, older audience. As election day draws nearer, Exeposé asked Exeter students whether they think their vote really counts, and why they choose to follow – or avoid – politics.
parties who represent one student’s views are “drowned out by waves of populist propaganda”
We asked students whether they planned on voting, and the majority of those we asked said that they would. One suggested they would be doing so out of respect to those who endured hardships so that we now have the freedom to vote, stating: “I will be voting as I do not want to spit in the liberty that I have that my ancestors did not have when they were living under the Tzar in Russia. I also want to respect my ancestors that fought against the Nazis so that we could be free.” However, there were those who were less enthusiastic about the process and, although they will be voting, feel somewhat underrepresented. One student claimed that “my home constituency is a safe seat and if I vote for the party I want to vote for here then it just helps another party, so I don’t have much of a voice,” whilst another believes that there are parties who represent their views, but they’re “drowned out by waves of populist propaganda.”
There is a sense, then, that voting as a student is a somewhat futile endeavour, despite the fact that many of us have multiple seats to choose from in which we can vote. Although, this is not an opinion held by all, as one student intends to vote at home because their “home seat is contested and is perhaps more unstable in whether Labour or Conservatives win.” So although a number of students see their votes as essentially wasted because they cannot meaningfully vote for the party they align themselves with, some see the option of having multiple locations to vote in as an opportunity to affect change.
it’s clear that many are disillusioned
Although some students believe they can have a valid input in the democratic process, it’s clear that many are disillusioned. 36% of 18 to 24 year-olds refrained from voting in the referendum last June, and 57% abstained from casting a ballot in the 2015 general election. This may not be a reflection of the mindless apathy pundits like to stereotype students with, but a more realistic analysis of the political system. As one Exeter student commented: “I think that a lot of people feel that none of the parties fully represent them…which is pretty disillusioning because it means nothing will ever change”.
This opinion is significant – it highlights the way politicians often neglect to focus on youth-orientated issues in their campaigns. After all, why pander to a traditionally low-turnout group when you can win favour with those already engaged and listening? But this lack of inclusion by political parties only serves to continue the cycle. If students feel ignored by government, they will assume their voice won’t be heard. But if we disengage with politics, politicians need not push for changes that affect young people.
These views reflect not ignorance or idiocy, but a learned discontent with the current political system
Then there are students who completely distrust the establishment. Some are radical: “I think we should all just cast a protest vote and spoil our ballots”. And why shouldn’t they be? With Nick Clegg promising to cut student loans – before raising them as part of the coalition government – and Jeremy Corbyn making the same promise a few years on, should students trust a different suit now? Others are simply cynical: “I want to vote, but I doubt Brexit will be reversed whoever gets in – the Lib Dems don’t stand much of a chance and they may still go with honouring the majority who voted leave – so it all feels somewhat pointless”. These views reflect not ignorance or idiocy, but a learned discontent with the current political system. Many young people consider voting to be a waste of time, because they believe that their ballot will not affect the changes they want to see, and they cannot find political figures who align with their view of the world.
The opinions of a number of Exeter students, combined with the comparatively low turnouts of the 18-24 age-group to previous elections, make it clear that a considerable amount of young people feel disenfranchised with the political system. However, there are still a significant amount who believe real change can come about through the electoral process, and perhaps this is a view that will increase in future generations if parties put more emphasis on their youth-based policies.