Are We Just Young, Dumb and Politically Disengaged?

Earlier this year, I was driving along listening to my favourite radio show on Triple J. On this talk back radio show they brought up a humorous story, told by one of their listeners about an interaction they had with the prime minister Scott Morrison. Scott Morrison had been campaigning in the listener’s local area and she decided to go and have a chat. Unaware exactly who he was, but thinking he was a part of the Labour party, the listener told him about how much she disliked the new liberal leader Scott Morrison and even referred to him as a prick. You can imagine I found this hilarious as I continued driving, even laughing out loud. But then I had a sickening thought that made the story a little bit less funny “What DOES Scott Morrison look like?”. Guilt was instant and I quickly came to the conclusion that I didn’t really know much about politics at all, especially when it came to political parties and elections. I wondered if my young Australian peers were as politically disengaged as myself.

In all fairness you can cut me at least a little bit of slack. I don’t consume political media in what can be considered a traditional way, I don’t watch TV, read newspapers, listen to the radio (except occasionally Triple J) nor do I go out of my way to seek out political information.

As well as this, it seems long gone are the days where recognisable faces like John Howard hold power for more than a decade. Over the last 11 years, Australia has had 6 leadership changes, meaning no Australian under 30 has ever voted for a PM who has lasted a whole term. This, mixed with growing up in the era of broken promises has left young people like myself with less trust and faith in the Australian political system. This trend is clearly reflected in the recent election, in which 18 to 24-year-olds had the lowest voter enrolment rate of all age groups. In addition to this, almost one third of this age group stated that they wouldn’t have voted at the last election if it wasn’t compulsory. To add to this lack of engagement with voting, young people have also begun to feel less loyal to political parties. According to a 2016 survey just 22 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds said they always voted for the same party, down from 70 per cent in 1987. As we have moved into what can be considered the third age of politics the political arena has become more turbulent, less predictable, less structured, and more difficult to control.

Although this may seem like doom and gloom for the outlook of the future of Australian politics, politics like many aspects of our lives is undergoing a process of mediatisation. This theory suggests that the media we use has the power to shape and frame the processes of political activity. Drops in traditional forms of media changes the way that politics are expressed in the younger generations. According to the 2018 digital news report 71% of 18–24 year olds use social media to access political information and are more likely than other age groups to consume news primarily from social media. Political researcher Dr Halupka believes that contrary to popular belief, young people are engaged in politics, but in ways previous generations of Australians were not; signing online petitions, being vocal on social media, blogging, using hashtags and supporting online campaigns. This style of political engagement sees a decline in traditional electoral politics and an emphasis on issue based politics.

This shift in political interest mirrors a term referred to as the ‘self mobilised citizen’. Which according to political professor Russel Dalton, self mobilised citizens, formulate their stance on a current issue independently of the position of a political party. They find it more effective to partake in protests than support a specific party. In the last year thousands of young Australians have participated in various rallies and social movements, surrounding gay rights, climate change and abortion rights.

Feeling slightly less guilty I can recall over the last few years voting in the gay marriage plebiscite, participating in various protests as well as sharing and educating others on my views on abortion rights. I may lack interest in political parties and elections but that does not mean I don’t care about what can be considered political issues. I never did consider myself politically engaged but now I might have to reconsider.

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