Now about those non-voters

Nobody should be happy that three out of five young New Zealanders didn't vote in the last general election. Some are, though.

There is a school of thought out there, shabby but existent, that goes like this: those non-voters are no great loss. They'd only be mischievous meddlers in an important process. The same ones who in the census put their religion down as Jedi.

If they were to vote in a grown-up election, the grumpies insist, they would do so for trite gratification rather than on the basis of any reasoned comparisons of the parties and their policies.

This sweeping dismissal is, of course, as patronising as hell. It presupposes that voting is best left to the worthy - a perilous view given how subjective an assessment worthiness is. Democratic principle surely challenges us to engage our community in the electoral process, rather than shrug off those alienated from it.

We're still hearing of the "missing million" potential voters who were no-shows at the previous election and could be crucial to the next one. There's scant chance of budging those who abstain for religious reasons, or who lack the physical or mental capacity. But that's a very small component. Far larger, surely, is the group who don't see any real connection to politics and their own world - at least not in any way that they can materially influence.

Then there's a third group which could most readily be energised big-time. That's the group which held back in 2011 because they saw the outcome as a foregone conclusion. Not the case this time.

Though just about any party will wanly insist that it has vibrant youth support, the reality is their gravitational pull is generally not strong. The Greens, we guess, do better than most in this respect, though they are susceptible to piety, which isn't an appealing trait for younger adults.

The extent to which Internet-Mana will summons a turnout of younger voters will be one of the election's more interesting questions. Even then, it will matter greatly whether it simply cannibalises voters from other parties of the Left, or does draw out either first-time or lapsed voters.

The Southland Times