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What have the student elections taught us about young voters?

From creative flyers to a full live musical rendition of ‘I’m Feeling Good’, the SU student elections saw a flurry of activity all over the campus. Behind are the school days of nervous speeches and PowerPoints filled with bad memes (not that memes where void in this campaigning period). Needless to say, there was an air of joy and excitement whether you were involved in the campaign or not, the cheerfulness was infectious. Walking to the library now involved the names and slogans of candidates being flashed from banners, flyers, or even just shouted to the public at large.                                                                                        

The campaigning doesn’t stop when you get home, social media being a vital medium for spreading manifestos. Posts popped up across all social media; people publicly endorsed candidates they agreed with over Facebook or Instagram, encouraging others to do likewise. Undeniably this period has been fun as well as a display of hard work and enthusiasm from the candidates themselves, but did it translate to voter turnout?

According to the SU website there were 7000 voters across this election period and 30,000 votes cast, which isn’t encouraging given the far larger student population. However, I think it is more important to look at the implications of the attitude that has sprung out of these elections. Overall, results show the sentiment does seem to be moving in the right direction. Turn out is still not huge, but it is showing slow improvements from last year. Undeniably the political engagement of young people is increasing.

The reason for this is clear the current political turmoil necessitates it. I believe so called ‘clicktivism’ and other activism young people are spearheading is a real mode for change. On a smaller scale the SU elections can be seen as a microcosm for the wider political and social situation young people face. Candidates see issues: mental health and well-being, inequality, and pledge to change it. When students cast their vote, they too are fighting for change on these issues. In the same way, school children can see climate change is an issue, and walk out of classrooms in protest. They cannot vote yet, but they are practicing political engagement, speaking up when they see injustice.

The statistics show that people in general are becoming more politically engaged, and this means young voters too. But it has to be asked, how much of this sentiment is actually followed through by young people? Is being a social justice warrior something you do for the benefit of Instagram? Does clicking a link online actual constitute to activism or real change? I think overall, it does. Brie Rogers Lowery, the UK director of Change.org, is quoted in The Guardian saying, “The internet has created the biggest citizen megaphones ever’, a useful comparison for the kind of change being enacted by young voters. The birth of online activism means that political engagement no longer means belonging to a party and paying membership. A different kind of activism is a bad thing, simply a product of our increasingly technological lives.                                                                           

It would be highly dangerous for any political party or organisation to dismiss young voters as either simply inactive or internet crazed, social justice warriors, they would be ignoring a huge voting power. For example, since Brexit the changes in population (people dying, voters becoming eligible) there would be a remain majority even if not a single voter changed their mind. It is the same generation who grew up with the creation of smartphones and social media, we know how to use it, and are using it to aid progression.

Young people are using their voices to enact change because change is, now more than ever, desperately needed. Whether it be climate change, gun control, or even the administration of a university, young voters are using their power to see the changes they want.

Here are the election results for this year and last year:

2018: x

2019: x

University of Bristol, studying English Lit. I like books, but I LOVE cheese.
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