Friday 26 October 2012

Generation Y: The apolitical generation

In the past, society was divided along distinct lines. Social standing, education, religious convictions and other factors dictated thought processes and how people positioned themselves. So much that to reach out to people of a particular persuasion, the biggest step you would have to take would be to place your information on channels (newspapers, TV stations etc) that served your demographic of interest and you would be more than half way to getting your point home.

But over the years, we have seen a blurring of the boundaries. People are more given to persuasion and more inclined to assess information based on how it meets their current needs and not who it is coming from. A good example of this can be seen in the decline in membership of UK political parties. In 2010, only 1% of the electorate was a member of one of the three main political parties. Labour had approximately 194,000 members, the Conservatives 177,00 and the Liberal Democrats 65,000. However in the early 1950s, the Conservatives claimed nearly 3 million members while Labour claimed more than 1 million.

These statistics pose a lot of questions about the advantages and disadvantages of the old system, the validity of these institutions in the present day and why people are choosing to do things differently this time. But perhaps the biggest question is that of how to capture the hearts and minds of people in the same way they did in the 1950s.

18-24 year olds are traditionally the hardest demographic to reach and a lot has been said about how difficult it is to get them involved. For many young people, when it comes to the current state of politics, it is either a case of ignoring the process entirely or choosing the least of all available evils. But I wonder if this is only the case because politicians are hitting them with tactics and ideas from the 1950s and not the world they live in.

Young people are regularly accused of not being interested in politics or at best being politically vague but a deeper look reveals something completely different. For the past few months, 250,000 young people across the UK have been voting on the UK Youth Parliament's Make Your Mark Ballot. Young people have been asked to vote on the biggest issues in their world and the campaign is the largest of its kind that has taken place in the UK. The campaign is led through Facebook and Twitter and has seen young people from across the UK join in.

People involved in politics need to understand that the current generation, despite all the ideas they are exposed to and the vast array of vague lines that separate them, are just as rigid as any of the other generation before them. They have their own channels, 'religious convictions' and other factors that dictate their thought process and unless time is dedicated to reaching out to them on their terms, we stand to lose a generation in the political abyss. Politicians have a clean slate to work on with this generation and the first party to focus on these channels stands to win their ears. 

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