READER REPORT:

Give young voters a voice: Break the cycle of mutual neglect

Youth advocate Keziah Parata is one of the young voters who wants to see people like her engaged in democracy and ...
JARRED WILLIAMSON/STUFF

Youth advocate Keziah Parata is one of the young voters who wants to see people like her engaged in democracy and represented in Parliament.

A recent U-Report poll revealed some fairly worrying results about how young people perceive politicians. When asked “how committed are politicians to addressing the issues young people care about?”, 64 per cent said “not that committed” and 20 per cent answered “not at all committed”.

These results mirror earlier surveys on the same topic. Given that young people have such unfavourable views of politicians, is really surprising that youth voter turnout is low?

The poll results also beg the question: what do young people care about? In most of the U-Report polls to date, young people said that they want to see more action on the issues that matter to them. Ninety two per cent said more should be done to address mental health and youth wellbeing.

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Seventy seven per cent said more action is needed to educate young people about sex, consent and healthy relationships.

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Seventy three per cent still don’t think that New Zealanders are motivated enough to act on climate change and 86 per cent said more should be done to promote the fair treatment of LGBT young people in New Zealand .

On each of these topics, the overwhelming message is that young people care about the issues and want to see change. The idea that young people are apathetic is completely false.

But this desire for change doesn’t necessarily translate to votes on election day. Why not?

One of the problems is something called the cycle of mutual neglect. In a nutshell, young people don’t vote because politicians ignore young people, and politicians ignore young people because young people don’t vote.

Youth-led groups like RockEnrol are working to break the cycle, but that alone is not enough. Without action on the other side, from politicians, parties and other decision-makers, young people are likely to remain frustrated by what they see as a lack of action on the things that matter to them. To break the cycle, we need to see action on both sides.

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Another reason is that Parliament still isn’t a particularly diverse place. The proportion of women in parliament rose after MMP was introduced but has plateaued at around 30 per cent.  Eighteen to 29-year-olds make up 22 per cent of the voting-age population but less than two per cent of MPs

Despite the fact that we have some strong Māori and Pasifika advocates in Parliament, young people of Māori, Pasifika or Asian descent are still far less likely to vote than others. It’s not hard to see why some young people don’t vote: many of them simply don’t see themselves represented in Parliament.

Democracy itself suffers when huge chunks of the population don’t see themselves represented in our democratic institutions. This election, groups like U-Report, RockEnrol and many others are working to ensure young people understand why voting is so important.

We need the rest of you to do the same. Young people need to know that if they share their views, people will listen. They need to see themselves represented in Parliament. These are things that all New Zealanders have the power to influence.

Will your vote result in a more diverse parliament? Are we electing politicians who are committed to addressing the issues young people care about?

We need to break the cycle of mutual neglect, and that responsibility does not rest solely with young people. This election, think about what the party you’re voting for has to say about young people. Our democracy is at stake if you don’t.

Luke Fitzmaurice works for U-Report, an online platform for young people to share their voices on issues they care about. RockEnrol exists to mobilise youth political power by convincing young people to vote. To find out more check out www.newzealand.ureport.in and www.rockenrol.org.nz.

 - Stuff Nation

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