NZ youth tune out in record numbers

Last updated 05:00 10/08/2014
Guy Williams
Fairfax NZ
GUY WILLIAMS: 'We're very lazy and it's hard to see the value of just one vote.'

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Three out of five young Kiwis didn't bother voting last election, startling new university research reveals.

It would have been worse, says comedian Guy Williams, but for his efforts to get a friend to cast a vote in 2011.

"I was amazed at how easy it was to vote," he says. "I had a friend who hadn't voted and I was so annoyed I drove him to a voting booth and he enrolled and voted in five minutes."

This time, the 26-year-old broadcaster is determined to make even more of a difference.

"People always want you to make a ‘viral video'," he muses. "So I'm going to make many viral videos that go viral - mobilise a young audience to change the young world! Either that or just make a video that 200 people watch."

Williams is taking the mickey: In truth, he and his fellow Virgin Voter Collective ambassadors hope to get out far more than 200 young voters.

Williams is joined by fellow comedians Rose Matafeo and Tim Batt, gossip columnist Pebbles Hooper and Student Army founder Sam Johnson as the faces of the Collective, a group of organisations committed to reversing the downward voting trend among young people.

They hope to persuade an extra 18,000 18-to-24-year-olds to vote next month, enough to begin reversing the rapid decline.

Somebody has to do something: The new voting analysis by Professor Jack Vowles of Victoria University shows turnout among Kiwis aged under 30 declined nine per cent at the 2011 election.

If the numbers continue dropping at that rate, he argues, democracy will soon be the exclusive preserve of older people. The data doesn't include special votes.

The political parties certainly recognise the gaping hole in voter turn-out which is why Labour, Internet-Mana and others are focused on reaching that disaffected youth vote.

The Virgin Voter Collective - is to be publicly launched today by Derek Handley, a wealthy young entrepreneur and innovator who decided to address poor voter turn-out by putting his money where his mouth is.

"If we don't solve it we'll end up with a county being run by older people who are dying off and young people having no say in how it's run," he exhorts.

He is funding the development of a smartphone app, available next week, that works much the same way as popular match-making app Tinder. It gets young people engaged by presenting them with policies and asking them to swipe left or right. depending on what they agree with.

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The app is the brainchild of 22-year-old Hannah Duder. Young people can stop their lives being determined by people twice their age, she says.

"I really believe what turns youth away is boring political jargon and the forced bias vibes you get from most political events trying to make youth vote."

Today, the collective will present new enrolment data showing that six weeks out from the general election, more than a third of young people are not even enrolled.

The problem is worst among the transient populations of the big cities and university towns, like Auckland Central (65 per cent not enrolled), Dunedin North (50 per cent), Wellington Central (47 per cent), Ilam (47 per cent) and Palmerston North (46 per cent).

The challenge is a big one. Even Williams is downbeat about the prospects of persuading his friends to vote.

"We're very lazy and it's hard to see the value of just one vote," he reflects.

"My theory is that most people can't be bothered. New Zealand politics is very boring - there's not enough of a discernable difference between the two major parties to make it seem worthwhile."

- Sunday Star Times

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