It is no surprise, but it still makes grim reading. According to today’s release of the British Social Attitudes survey, most young people are no longer interested in politics. The survey shows that we are not just losing an entire generation to politics. People of all ages are becoming less engaged with the political process.
We face future prospect of governments being elected on turnouts of well below 50%. As disinterest in party politics grows, we must ask whether our political structures, especially political parties, will still be relevant in the decades to come.
First, let’s have a quick look at the statistics.
Among 18-24 year olds, fewer than half voted in the 2010 general election. Again, less than half thinks its everyone’s duty to vote. Barely a third of this group has much interest in politics. Twice that number identify with a political party – in the sense of “I’m a Tory”.
Compare these statistics to those of people 65 years or older. More than two-thirds voted in 2010 and three-quarters identify with a political party.
This is not just a question of one generation being more interested in politics than those that came after it. A detailed look at the data shows three effects. Firstly, people across all age groups have become less politically aligned – again in the sense of “I’m a Tory” – and less interested in politics in recent years (this is the period effect). Secondly, people born in the 1960s are more likely to have lost their political allegiances as they grew older than those born in the 1930s (the lifecycle effect). Finally, each new generation is less likely to be politically engaged than its predecessor (the generation effect).
These three effects together tell us that people of all age groups have become less interested in politics and political participation, and this trend is accelerating. We notice this most among younger people who have become much less partisan and less interested in politics than their elders over the last 20 years. They are less likely to turn out to vote or believe that people have a civic duty to vote. But it would be a mistake to think that political disengagement is phenomenon confined to younger people. Older people too are becoming less engaged.
Being less partisan challenges the bigger political parties much more than the Lib Dems, who have always benefited from floating voters. But the growing disinterest in politics challenges all parties. And unwillingness of younger people to turn out to vote threatens the basis of our democracy.
So what do we do about it?
* Andy Boddington is a Lib Dem living in Shropshire, and a former editor for Lib Dem Voice