12 Sep 2016

Young voters feel locked out of local body politics

8:47 am on 12 September 2016

Young people believe they're locked out of local government politics and campaigning is out of touch.

In the 2010 local elections only a third of those aged under 24 and just over half of those under 40 voted, compared with a more than 70 percent turnout in older age groups.

This year, only two thirds of people under 30 are enrolled to vote, but all age groups over 35 have nearly 100 percent enrolment.

A recent Auckland University-led mayoral debate drew a crowd of just 40 students, a reflection of the low turnout of younger voters in local elections.

At the debate, some came to listen, some just to eat lunch but all of the students RNZ spoke to said local body elections were inaccessible.

They said it wasn't apathy which was the problem, it was poor political process.

Many students expressed their frustration at the lack of centralised information about the candidates and their policies.

One student said she came out of high school without any knowledge of political process.

"I don't really have a clue about how to vote or why I should vote, for who, and which policies benefit who."

Another said many young people had given up on a system they felt alienated by.

"We see it as a necessary evil, which we shouldn't see our government as.

"Because we've given up, we just tend to not care anymore."

But he said young people were active on social media and engaged with broad issues but felt uninspired by the candidates.

Auckland University Students' Association president Will Matthews said the pressures of daily life could be a hindrance to political engagement.

"Students, as young people, have so many problems right in their face, like where they're living or the cost of living, or where their next meal is coming from, or how they're going to pay to top up their Hop card to get to uni, that something like voting just has to take a step back in terms of those priorities and that's really worrying."

Laura O'Connell-Rapira is the founder of youth-led voting organisation Rock Enrol.

She said part of the problem in attracting young voters to local politics lay in ineffectual campaigning.

She said door-to-door and landline canvassing didn't work for the young because they were often not home or didn't have landlines.

"Voting by post and by early enrolment are both systems that marginalise young voters or would-be young voters.

"If you move from flat to flat several times a year, it's very difficult for you to enrol at the address you need to by August, so you can vote in October."

Ms O'Connell-Rapira said the government needed to put more money into community-led voting programmes.

She said Rock Enrol helped turn out 3.5 percent of the youth vote at the 2014 general election and was run on budget of $15,000.

Chlöe Swarbrick

Chloe Swarbrick Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

Mayoral candidate Chloe Swarbrick, who is just 22-years-old, said where money was tight, social media had a major role to play in making politics appealing and accessible to the young.

"What social media has enabled me to do is to connect with our voter base on a very genuine personal level and see them in the space they are in everyday," she said.

The chair of the Auckland Council youth advisory panel, Flora Apulu said it also comes down to groups feeling reflected in the system.

"Minority or marginalised groups in society are facing a lot of barriers towards them actually voting, and sometimes it's little things like 'there is no-one standing that actually looks like me'."

Ballot boxes will be dotted throughout the Auckland University campus for three days in September to remind students to vote at the October local body election.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs