by Monica Nica
Marine, the president of AEGEE Lyon introduced us to her wonderful home city and the French way of spending time – picnicking with friends by the riverside. She also proposed having a different approach to disseminating information about the European Parliament (EP) elections and gathering opinions on it. Instead of holding a presentation we used a method called “Porteurs de paroles” which allowed us to engage the students at Jean Monnet University in a debate on the street.
Even though they were rather shy in starting a conversation, once we approached them they opened up and provided us with a full range of opinions, from Eurosceptic to Europtimist. For example, one student said he is not going to vote, but if he did it would only be for a candidate proposing to exit the Eurozone. On the other hand, some talked about voting as a duty, as a right that must be exercised because people died for them to have it.
Lack of proper information seems to be, as it was in the mobility topic as well, one of the main deterrents for young people. They complained that the elections for the EP do not receive nearly as much coverage as the national elections and even when they do, the focus of the debate is on national issues. Furthermore, students said that the issues debated do not interest or represent them. Despite this, they mentioned that their decision not to vote does not reflect a lack of interest in politics or the EU.
Lyon’s youths fit in the pattern discovered by various surveys and studies throughout the EU: young people are not apathetic, but their concerns, ideas, and ideal of democratic politics does not find a match within the available political offer. Moreover, there are structural barriers hindering or making it very difficult for the electoral participation of certain categories of young people. Through poverty, unemployment, linguistic, ethnic or social integration, some young people are systemically excluded.
The voting behaviour of young people presents differences based on income and educational background. Income strongly affects the motivations of non-voters: youths from poorer backgrounds are significantly more likely not to vote if there is no candidate or party they want to win.
Although young people have trust in the effectiveness of voting, the older they get their cynicism and belief in non-electoral forms of participation increases. Since the first two elections in the life of a voter are highly important in determining their long-term participation, it is important to encourage and incentivise youths to vote from a young age. Participating in the first two elections they are eligible for can make the difference between habitual abstentionists or habitual participants later on.
The factors that can increase the likelihood of young people voting include being part of an association offering them positive experiences of political efficacy, coming from a family which traditionally votes, having political and civic education in school and last, but most certainly not least, having encounters with politicians who actually listen to them.
But as one student said: “it takes a lot of work to make young people aware that they can have an impact on the decision-makers”.