New study reveals reasons for low voter turnout among SA youth

New research shows that voter apathy is actually disillusionment with the current political landscape.

Pretoria, South Africa – Apathy was long thought to be the cause of low voter turnout among young South Africans. New research by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) reveals that this ‘apathy’ is actually disillusionment with the current political landscape.

Do you want my vote? Understanding the factors that influence voting among young South Africans’  was launched by the ISS today. The study provides a detailed picture of youth perceptions of politics and the factors that influence whether they participate in elections or not. Voter registration among young people is the lowest of all age demographics in South Africa. In the 2014 national elections, registration levels for 18 and 19 year olds was just 33% – well below the 73% average.

ISS researcher and author Lauren Tracey conducted 49 one-on-one interviews and 277 focus-group discussions with over 2 000 students in high school, Further Education and Training (FET) and university to understand what drives some young people to vote and discourages others.

Tracey’s research findings highlight that this demographic group, in rural and urban areas across all nine provinces, is concerned about four major problems – unemployment, corruption, poor infrastructure and poor education.

‘Young people are growing increasingly frustrated with these issues that continue to plague South Africa’, says Tracey. ‘Although they acknowledge the importance of voting, our findings show that young people often don’t identify voting as the best way to bring about change.’

She notes that corruption is a major disincentive to voting.

‘The participants said that politics is full of corruption and self enrichment, and they see no reason why they should be interested in it, as they gain nothing from politics and voting.

‘There are signs that the ruling African National Congress’ popularity is waning amongst young people and that this is a generation more open to changing their political allegiance than are their parents.’

According to the research, action taken in three areas could increase young people’s participation in elections: improving civic and voter education programmes in schools; meaningful and dynamic outreach to the youth to raise awareness about politics and democracy; and using technology and social media better to link decision makers and political elites with ‘hard-to-reach’ groups, such as young people.

Click here to read the monograph.

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Development partners
The ISS is grateful for support from the following members of the ISS Partnership Forum: the Hanns Seidel Foundation and the governments of Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the USA.
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