Policy Conversation: First time voters, why vote?

In September 2015, Youth Lab, in partnership with the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, hosted a Policy Conversation at Lancea Vale Secondary School. The discussion was prompted by the upcoming local elections and the role young people have to play in the elections process. The aim of the discussion was to get a sense, from young people who will be voting for the first time, of the reasons which motivate them to vote – or not.

As the largest voting demographic in the country, youth are poised as the key decision-makers when it comes to elections. Unfortunately, many youth do not vote, are uninformed about the voting process and candidates, or are just disengaged with the relationship between holding elected officials to account and the development of their community. This discussion aimed to bridge these information gaps.

The discussion consisted of a panel discussion with young people from the community of Eldorado Park, as well as Waseem Holland, a political analyst from the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa. It was held at the school, and was attended by pupils in Grades 11 and 12.

Whilst the argument was made that politics is about the contestation of ideas and therefore, young people need to join in and deliberate on the best ways to improve their communities, many of the young people in the room expressed very little desire to vote. Many pupils expressed frustration at not knowing which party to vote for and, by extension, not trusting the parties currently on the ballot. There were strong views around the efficacy of the ward councillors in the area, with some pupils arguing that politicians and elected officials spend too much time worrying about populist issues, instead of addressing real community ones.

Inasmuch as some students saw the value in voting, much of the discussion focused on the lack of accountability from elected officials and the need for communities to move away from party politics, towards more proactive efforts to improve the conditions in their communities.

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