Absent voters sacrifice their voice

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The world’s most powerful country elected Donald Trump to be their new leader last week. Decades from now we will have to explain to our grandchildren how this happened.

In the aftermath of this result, people may feel as though they were powerless to prevent this descent into tragedy. It is this attitude of helplessness that often facilitates these kinds of electoral disasters.

Voters aged between 18 and 35 make up 31 per cent of the U.S. electorate. Early projections are that roughly half of that group did not vote.

Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. A small percentage increase in young voters in Florida and Pennsylvania was all that was needed. A failure to take part in the political process has resulted in the political process failing them.

The impending Trump presidency is not the only recent example of a nightmare becoming reality. Remember that many people also considered Brexit to be an impossibility.

Yet now the young people of the United Kingdom are facing a future apart from the rest of Europe. Brexit passed by a margin of less than four per cent, with around one million votes the decider.

Over 65’s were the most pro-Brexit voters, with 60 per cent of them opting for a Leave vote. 73 per cent of voters between 18 and 24 years old voted to remain in the European Union.

Yet reportedly only 36 per cent of the 18 to 24 year old cohort actually voted in the referendum. This is compared with 90 per cent of those over 65.

If as many young people voted as did those over 65, it is likely the UK would not be leaving the EU. Young people not taking part in the electoral process causes demonstrable and grave consequences when they could be making a huge difference.

Yet the opposite is also true. While Trump and Brexit illustrate the negative consequences of a low youth vote, the Marriage Referendum illustrates that a high youth turnout can lead to progress.

The Yes Equality campaign helped register 68,000 people before the referendum, most of whom were young people voting for the first time. Another 27,633 were directly registered by the Union of Students in Ireland.

These two sources produced almost 100,000 voters, most of whom had never previously voted in an election before. This accounts for almost five per cent of the total votes cast in the referendum.

Five per cent is a huge block of votes in an election. Five per cent would have changed the outcome in the Brexit vote. Add five per cent to Clinton’s total vote share and she would have won in a landslide.

Ireland is a more equal country now in no small part thanks to youth participation in the electoral process. The United States of America and the United Kingdom are set to become less equal partially due to the lack of young voters,

Voting gives our generation power to shape our future. That power is lost when young people choose not to vote.

Bríon Hoban

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