Student-Designed YouGov Poll on Aspirations of Young Adults

YouGov recently released results from a poll designed by students in PAIR2004: Research Skills in Politics and International Relations. One of the key findings?

“18-24 year olds are more likely to emphasise the importance of their career in the next 10 years – and much more likely to consider creating a bucket list than the older generations.”

Read the written report by Hazel Tetsill.

 

Beyond the Youth Citizenship Commission- Energising the Debate on Youth Political Participation

By Dr. Andy Mycock, University of Huddersfield

As part of its on-going commitment to promoting political activism and democratic engagement, researchers representing the Centre for Citizenship, Globalization and Governance (C2G2) have played a leading role in the development of a Political Studies Association (PSA) project seeking to enhance youth citizenship. Gerry Stoker, Professor of Governance and Director of C2G2, and postgraduate research student, Emily Rainsford, have contributed chapters to a new volume, Beyond the Youth Citizenship Commission: Young People and Politics. The publication is edited by Professor Jon Tonge (University of Liverpool) and Dr Andy Mycock (University of Huddersfield), who between 2008 and 2009 served on the independent Youth Citizenship Commission (YCC) formed by the last Labour government. The volume builds on the work of the YCC and applied research by members of the Political Studies Association and seeks to further energise debates about young people and democratic participation. The C2G2 played an important role in developing the project and publication of the volume, kindly co-sponsoring the hosting of a workshop for contributors in London in January 2014.

Contributions to the volume provide short opinion pieces on a range of youth citizenship topics and offer policy proposals to encourage governments, political parties and youth stakeholder groups across the UK to adopt more dynamic approaches to encouraging young people to get involved in politics. The volume addresses issues such as votes at 16, political participation of young women and BME groups, citizenship education in schools and universities, youth social media, and compulsory youth voting.  Policy proposals include a referendum on votes at 16, compulsory electoral registration in schools, and a call for the Westminster All-Party Parliamentary Group for Women in Parliament to establish an inquiry to encourage more young women to participate in politics.

Gerry Stoker’s contribution to the volume explores political citizenship and the innocence of youth. He argues that rather than despairing about the relative non-engagement of young citizens in formal politics, there is a need to recognise the positive aspects of their relative divorce from politics and their relative lack of cynicism and fatalism. Gerry suggests that young people are more open to the prospects for change and doing politics differently. A different political order could, he suggests, be stimulated by reforms such as lowering the voting age to 16 and young people’s national representative parliaments, assemblies and forums across the UK being given the right to call annual ballots or referenda on topics of their choosing.

Emily Rainsford draws on her doctoral research to identify a number of reasons why political parties are struggling to recruit young people to their ranks. She suggests that the relationship between young people and political parties is complicated but there is an urgent need to address the causes of party political disengagement. The need for new approaches to youth political party membership requires an acknowledgement that young people are adopting distinctive forms of political activism. The terms of party membership should therefore be reviewed to increase opportunities for young people to be able to influence the design of policy and develop forms of participation that reflect their interests.

The volume was discussed at a special panel at the Political Studies Association conference in Manchester on April 16th 2014. A panel of respected academics, including Gerry Stoker and Jon Tonge, discussed youth citizenship issues with representatives from the Manchester Youth Council and local schools. The panel also included Sam Johnson, a young councillor from Manchester City Council and Ian Wybron, a member of the Demos Generation Citizen project.

The volume will be officially launched at an event in Westminster in the summer and other events will be hosted in Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff. Chapters from the publication will also be hosted in an exciting series of on-line debates on the Democratic Audit and PSA blogs, with leading politicians, academics, and youth organisation will respond the policy proposals.

An electronic copy of the Beyond the Youth Citizenship Commission: Young People and Politics volume can be downloaded here.

For further details of PSA youth citizenship events linked to the project or to ask for a hard copy of the volume, please contact Dr Andy Mycock.

Old Questions about Young People

richpennyBy Richard Penny, Teaching Fellow in Political Theory and PhD student at the University of Southampton (Academia.edu). You can read more posts by Richard here.


 

If commentary is to be believed, Ed Miliband’s speech to the Labour party conference set out a frightening picture of Britain in 2020 – riven by power outages and the confiscation of private property. But these two nightmarish visions pale into comparison with Miliband’s third major announcement – the dystopian pledge to give young people more of a say over how society is run.

In proposing to lower the voting age to 16, Miliband raised an issue which had laid largely dormant in mainstream politics since the voting age was lowered to 18 (from 21) in The Representation of the People Act in 1969. Nonetheless, the question of who should be able to vote, and why, remains of great normative (or moral) importance and interest.

However, whilst the question Miliband raised may have been interesting, the same could not be said for much of the immediate reaction. ‘No representation without taxation’ thundered some – ignoring the fact that young people pay many taxes (particularly VAT, taxes on savings, and taxes relating to work), and that linking the right to vote to a citizen’s taxable contribution seems morally troubling (not least in a society in which receiving taxable income is still a strongly male privilege). Other commentators argued that we ought to let children be children, without ‘corrupting’ them with politics (and presumably leaving them free to pursue innocent childish activities like climbing trees and playing the latest instalment of Grand Theft Auto). Other arguments took on a more practical hue, claiming variously that young people won’t bother to vote (in which case it’s not clear what the problem would be), or that lowering the voting age will result in mass manipulation of young people by radical parties. Some commentators, confusingly, made both arguments at the same time.

The more serious and thoughtful responses to Miliband’s proposals tended to focus on the idea that young people simply aren’t capable of making the kinds of informed decision which are necessary to vote effectively. This claim seems harder to dismiss. After all, it seems clear enough that there are many young people who we might not want making important decisions on our behalf (you probably walk past a lot of them on the way to campus each morning).

But how far can this thought actually take us? If we are brutally honest, we’d surely have to admit that there are also plenty of over 18s who we might not want making important decisions on our behalves (you probably walk past a lot of them on campus each morning). And this serves to illustrate a problem for the ‘competency’ argument for restricting young people from voting. Namely that whatever we mean when we say that young people are “incapable of making an informed decision”, the same will surely apply to some adults too. Or conversely, on whichever metric we choose (‘life-experience’, ‘maturity’, ‘intelligence’, ‘political knowledge’) there will almost certainly be some people under 18 who perform better than some over 18.

One solution would be to adopt a competency test across all members of society. However, this looks objectionable for a lot of reasons. But if so, then what the competency argument is really saying is that ‘since some young people aren’t competent to vote, all young people should be barred from voting’. This looks considerably shakier. Even if we grant that some young people might not be ‘competent’ to vote[1] it would seem rather unfair to use this as a basis to restrict others who were competent. To take a parallel, there are many elderly voters who – given the remorseless passage of time – might fairly have their competency to vote questioned. But even if we were willing to say this (and good luck to the politician who tries), it would seem patently wrong to remove the vote from other elderly voters who retained the competency we were identifying.

At this point a defender of the competency argument might claim that the issue is simply one of practicality. ‘Yes’, they may concede, ‘some young people might be capable of informed voting – but in general, most aren’t, and it’s simply not practical to work out who is and who isn’t’. But this idea also seems difficult to defend. The right to vote is surely not something that ought to be conditional on its being easy to administer. Keeping an electoral roll of over 44 million people is difficult to administer. So are elections! And yet we not only do both, but we even send ballot papers around the world to expatriates, and set up polling stations in isolated communities so that citizens can not only vote, but vote conveniently. In all these cases it seems evident that the right to vote is far more important than the cost to society of enabling this right. But if this is the case then it seems that the very most the defender of the competency argument can demand is that we set up some kind of test for those under 18.

Is this a satisfactory compromise? There are reasons to suppose it is not. Would it have been a satisfactory compromise for the suffragettes to accept a competency test in order to ‘prove’ that women were competent voters? Even if every woman were to pass such a test, and have her vote, the existence of the test itself would surely signify a kind of second-class status for women that should trouble a society committed to equal citizenship. To withhold from all members of a social group such an important right such as voting, on the basis that some – supposedly – may not be able to use it properly is not a standard we would accept with regards to race, gender, educational achievement or income. It is not clear what makes age different. Just as we would not accept a competency test for the elderly, it seems that we should reject one for young people too.


[1] Note too that defining what ‘competency’ to vote means is far from simple. What is competency? And worse, who gets to decide?