Since the 70s, Britain has been progressively ageing. We’ve become so accustomed to this fact, it’s easy to forget what it’s like to be anything different. We certainly seem to have forgotten that at the other end of the demographic scale, a new generation is coming of age.
Enter Generation Z (or Gen Z, if you prefer), the first cohort to be raised in a world seamlessly intertwined with digital technology. For many, this year’s elections mark their first opportunity to vote and shape the future of the country. It appears, however, that voter turnout amongst the under 25s is still in a downward trajectory, with a 7% drop of voters in this age group in the 2019 election compared to 2010.
This begs the question: why, in an era where information is at their fingertips, are the under 25s still choosing not to vote?
To answer this, we spoke to several under 25s and asked them why. Here are their top three answers.
“I don’t understand enough about politics”
If you’re a seasoned campaigner, you may be thinking, “I don’t do politics,” will feature somewhere. Of all the people we asked, however, not one gave this as a reason.
Instead, their primary reason centred on a perceived lack of understanding around the nature of politics, which suggests a lack of political education rather than disengagement. A report from the all-party parliamentary group on political literacy found 20% of secondary schools in England provide no political education at all. This means, for Gen Z, thousands of their number have not been equipped with the tools to understand the world they live in and the effect politics has. Politics means decisions made by affluent individuals in lavish suits at Westminster, not the cost of university tuition fees, the money in their pay packet, or the cost of a drink on a Friday night. Politics is seen as something that happens to them, rather than a mechanism through which the country works collectively for everyone.
“Politicians don’t care”
Another reason given, and one well recognised by political activists nationwide, stems from the perception of politicians as being disingenuous. While this sentiment isn’t exclusive to Gen Z, their exposure to politics primarily occurs through ubiquitous social media platforms, unlike previous generations reliant on televised addresses with scripted responses.
This unfiltered digital landscape exposes them to the realities of political discourse, revealing inconsistencies, policy shifts, and a barrage of opinions from all sides. Consequently, a profound distrust in politicians ensues. This disillusionment stems from a perception that politicians prioritise optics over addressing their pressing concerns. As a result, Gen Z remains sceptical of political narratives and hesitant to engage in a system they perceive as lacking in authenticity and sincerity.
“Politicians don’t listen to young people”
Research from Statista in 2023 found that the top political issues for 18–24 year olds were the economy, health, housing and the environment. Compare this with how much time politicians across all parties dedicated to Brexit and immigration, how little has been done about housing, and the row-backs on green policies; it’s little wonder Gen Z feel ignored. When pressed as to why this might be, the answer is that there are not enough young people voting. While this is correct, the blame is not entirely on the politicians. In the 2019 General Election, 47% of this demographic voted, compared to 74% of over 65s. Politicians have never needed to rely on the vote of young people, and will inevitably prioritise the issues important to the majority of their voters.
“What’s the point in voting?”
Gen Z may be more engaged in alternative forms of political activism, but a common theme runs through all responses given.
The disconnect between Gen Z and politicians means they feel that there’s nobody in politics on their side. Consequently, this deters Gen Z as they feel voting isn’t as meaningful as other forms of activism. Undoubtedly, these barriers need to be addressed through education and engagement from political leaders, but that will only bridge the gap so far. If young people don’t vote because they believe nobody in Westminster is fighting for their interests, the most meaningful place to start that fight is at the ballot box.