For many, the Seanad referendum was merely a warm up before the real business of the budget took centre stage. Despite the final result marking one of the biggest electoral shocks in the history of the state, other aspects of the campaign remained very much true to form. With just over a third of the electorate turning out to cast a ballot, the question of why so many young people in particular don’t vote, remains very much unanswered.
Research carried out before the 2007 general election found that voter turnout among young people in Ireland was just 25 per cent. At the time, the findings were attributed to the ‘comfort’ felt by young Irish people along with the lack of alternative policies within the main political parties. Despite this, voter turnout among young people has increased significantly since the financial crisis hit.
A survey conducted by the Central Statistics Office after the 2011 general election found a 12 per cent increase in voters in the 18-24 age category compared with the 2002 election. It also found that almost three quarters of students voted in the 2011 election compared with just over half in 2002.
However, the survey concluded that young people were still less likely to vote than their older counterparts. Voter turnout also remained lowest among students and the unemployed.
Many commentators such as Independent TD Shane Ross, have argued that the distribution of power between the main political parties throughout the state’s history, has led to a lack of credible modern day alternatives.
Despite this, only 6 per cent of young voters surveyed stated that disillusionment with politics was their primary reason for not voting. Over 10 per cent claimed to have no interest in political issues, while 3 per cent cited a lack of information as their reason for abstaining.
Interestingly, 45 per cent of those in the 18-34 age category said they did not vote in the 2011 general election because they were not registered. According to the 2011 census, this amounts to just under half a million people. The survey further revealed that 12 per cent of young people did not vote because they were away from home on polling day.
Prior to the Seanad referendum, the National Youth Council of Ireland were running a campaign in order to get more young people involved in the politics. According to the NYCI’s deputy director James Doorley; “Not being on the register is a key reason why young people don’t vote, with many not even aware they have to register. A healthy democracy relies on citizens who are well informed, interested and engaged: so we would strongly encourage all young people to take this opportunity to make their voices heard,”.
Previous studies carried out by the Central Statistics Office found that over a quarter of those aged between 18-25 were not registered to vote, increasing to more than a third among 18-21 year olds.
In a different era, politicians would register younger voters on the doorstep as they canvassed, however this is no longer the case. Regardless; with political activism and membership at an all-time low, are young people more disengaged from politics now than ever before?