Young voters know about the past but are more concerned about the present

Calum Atkinson

Everything has changed, changed utterly. For the first time in the history of the state, neither Fianna Fáil nor Fine Gael are leading talks to form a new government.

Sinn Féin surged in the election, winning the popular vote and returning 37 of their 42 candidates to the 33rd Dáil. Both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have taken a step back and told Mary Lou McDonald to try form a government with independents and smaller parties.

Sinn Féin’s rise was in part fueled by its popularity with younger voters. The election exit poll showed the party receiving 31.8 per cent of first preference votes among 18-24 years olds. This was more than the traditionally big parties combined.

Many young people feel that the fastest growing economy in the EU is just not working for them. The extortionate rental market and the high cost of living in general makes the idea of moving out of their family home a pipe dream for most and still forces many to move abroad.

Sinn Féin has ambitious plans to transform the country and solve the housing crisis. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have mismanaged housing in this country for many years and Sinn Féin’s alternative plan put forward by the impressive Eoin Ó Broin attracted many young voters.

Much of the discourse around the youth support for Sinn Féin centred around politicians and pundits claiming that young voters don’t know enough about the party’s past. This point is not only condescending but it is also inaccurate.

The truth of the matter is that people know about Sinn Féin’s past associations but voted for them anyway because they put forward an alternative vision for the country that many bought into. This vision set out how they would solve many of the problems facing young people.

Also, the exit poll shows Sinn Féin winning in every age demographic except voters over the age of 65. Even in that age cohort, the party received over 10 per cent of the vote. Over half a million people gave Sinn Féin candidates their first preference. Do all those who voted for Sinn Féin not know their history?

Of course not, but many politicians and many in the media still explained Sinn Fein’s success among young voters by just saying the youth don’t remember the past. This lacks any deeper reflection into what’s really behind it.

The exit poll also shows that voters saw health, housing and homelessness as the most important issues by far in deciding how they voted.  The scale of the problems in these areas meant that many who had reservations about voting Sinn Féin in the past decided to vote for them this time. 

This is an indictment of Fianna Fáil’s and Fine Gael’s time in office of late. These parties have governed since the foundation of the state and citizens wanted change. Sinn Féin were the main beneficiary of that feeling but other smaller parties like the Social Democrats also added seats.

Calum Atkinson