In recent General Elections, turnout has been worryingly low. The lowest turnout we’ve ever seen was just 59% back in 2001, and 2010 wasn’t much better with just 65% of those eligible to vote doing so.
Those figures are bad enough, but when you look at the statistics for young voters in particular, the situation worsens. In 2010, just 44% of 18–24 year olds voted and the figures for previous elections are very similar.
It appears as though the apathy of the older generation is infecting our younger voters, discouraging them from voting too. But how do we stop that unwillingness to participate being passed on to yet another generation?
Well, we could introduce compulsory voting, but what’s the use of that if you have an electorate which has been tainted by the media and has little political knowledge?
The obvious answer, then, has to be education.
It’s for that reason I believe politics needs to be made compulsory in high schools. We need to teach young people about politics so they develop an interest and a desire to get involved.
Teaching just the basics, such as the election process and the backgrounds of political parties, would help tremendously, possibly igniting a passion for the subject amongst many students. Even those who aren’t overly enthused would still absorb key information.
But teaching politics wouldn’t just increase people’s knowledge of the subject, it would equip them with vital life skills.
Engaging in debates, seeing both the positive and negative sides to an argument, forming your own opinions and being able to understand current affairs are just some of the skills you learn from studying politics. You’ll also realise the impact politics has on everyday life and see why participation is so important.
Those extra skills also mean learning isn’t limited to the classroom. By building on the foundations you’ve constructed in other subjects, politics teaches you skills which enable you to expand your horizons and open your mind to new opportunities.
Having young people more knowledgeable about politics would also benefit society because they could make their own informed decisions at election time, rather than simply adopting the views of the media or those around them.
If young people get more involved in politics they’d be likely to discuss topical issues with their parents and family members, encouraging them to expand their political knowledge and form their own opinions, which would likely translate into votes.
I’m not saying the challenge of increasing turnout and political participation will be easy, but it’s certainly achievable, and the results of doing so will give us future governments that are more accountable and have true legitimacy to govern us.