Author:Chantelle Cobby, Seed Waikato
Topics:Democracy and governance
Despite 18-35 year olds making up 22% of our region’s population, we’ve had staggeringly low rates of voter turnout from young people. Even more shocking is the extremely low levels of youth representation in local councils nationwide. Out of 1,573 elected members across Aotearoa in the last elections, 26 of them are 35 or younger1, or 0.02% of our elected representatives.
Given that voting is the primary tool available to young people to influence policy, ensuring that the majority of the youth vote is critical to ensure that the issues they care about, and changes they wish to see, are well represented. It is deeply concerning that the interests, wellbeing and aspirations of our nation’s young people are not finding a voice loud enough to inform public policy decision-making.
Without high levels of engagement, particularly from the youth, we risk the gradual erosion of our democratic system2. This
report investigates the reasons behind the low engagement of youth with local politics and puts forward recommendations that work towards solving the issue.
In May 2019, Seed Waikato ran a digital survey targeting young people, and received 283 responses from young people aged 15-35 living in the Waikato region. Young people spent approximately 33 minutes each to complete the surveys. We sought to understand two things:
Why are our youth so disengaged from local politics?
What do young people believe to be the solution to increase youth engagement with local politics?
A design thinking framework was used to gather and analyse the insights gained from the survey.
Finding 1: Counter to public perception of disinterest in local politics among our youth, many of our young people were interested in actively participating but did not know where and how to access information to do so.
Finding 2: Insufficient information, communication and connection are the greatest barriers to our young people voting in local elections.
Finding 3: Greater information, awareness, and participatory engagement, would encourage more young people to vote.
Finding 4: Young people are frustrated by the lack of representation amongst council at present. Greater representation would encourage young people to vote.
Finding 5: Feeling inexperienced, unqualified and unskilled to work a difficult job in a negative working environment is the greatest barrier to young people standing for local office.
Finding 6: Accessible information, encouragement, support and personal development opportunities would increase the number of young people running for council.
(Executive summary, pages 3-4)