Disengagement of Young People from Civic and Political Processes

The disinterest of many people from, civics, politics and other democratic processes has raised a lot of concern among policymakers, politicians, and even scholars (Stolle " Hooghe, 2004). Young people have especially been the focus of this concern; there is a feeling among many politicians and policymakers that young people are increasingly exhibiting signs of civic deficit or signs of disengagement from many democratic processes like voting, vying for leadership, and so forth (Civics Expert Group (Australia), 1994). That said, political apathy and low civic involvement among many young Australians is a fact that is well captured in literature. This trend towards disengagement from civic and political processes has caught the attention of many political leaders across the first world countries like Australia, Canada, the US, and so forth (Fyfe, 2009). This trend is characterized by low voter registration, low party membership, low voter turnout, and so forth.  Research indicates that fewer and fewer young Australians are joining unions and political parties; similarly, more and more of them are admitting that they only vote because it is compulsory. In fact, according to the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC), young Australians are markedly under-enrolled as voters compared to other demographics and many politicians and policymakers have taken this to mean that young people are disinterested in civics and democratic processes (Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), 2006). Although policymakers and politicians are right in many respects in taking the decline in participation by young people in conventional democratic processes to mean their disengagement from civics and politics; their analysis is too simplistic; there is a possibility that this is not entirely disengagement but rather a change in the way young people participate in civics and politics.   

The numbers of people who show up to vote on an election day is still an important indicator of the wellbeing of any democracy; democracies are after all predicated on the engagement of a considerable number of people in their processes (O'Neill, 2007). In Australia, for example, it is compulsory for all citizens above the age of 17 years to register as voters and vote once they attain the voting age of 18 years. In spite of the fines that come with not registering (AEC) data indicates that only 2 in every 10 Australian young people who are eligible to vote are not actually registered as voters; 95% of all adults are, on the other hand, enrolled as voters (Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), 2006). In addition to that, research indicates that 87% of young people in Australia vote only because it is compulsory; in fact, just about 50% of them would vote if it was otherwise (Saha, Print, " Edwards, 2005). That said, civic and political participation generally increases as people grow older. Although research on the history of young people’s participation in civics and politics in Australia is minimal; it is fairly obvious that young people in Australia and in other developed countries exhibit political and civic behaviors that are markedly different from those of older generations (Inglehart, 1997). Young people, for instance, are more concerned with higher order issues like human rights and climate change.

The phenomenon of young disengagement from formal civic and political processes does not only affect Australia; it is a trend that has been observed in many other first world countries. In the UK, for instance, only 37% of all eligible voters between the ages of 18-24 cast a vote in the 2005 election; this represented a 2% decline voter turnout from the 2001 election and a 14% decline from 1997 election. Similarly, young people who said they were interested in who would form the government in the next general election declined from near 70% in 1994 to just under 40% in 2003 (Coleman " Rowe, 2005). A look at the Canadian young people shows a similar trend in voting habits among the youth. As a matter of fact, research indicates compared to other age brackets, Canadian youth vote the least. In the 2004 general election, for instance, only 37% of eligible Canadian young people turned up to vote; the overall voter turnout, on the other hand, was 61%. That said, Canadian young people may not be disinterested in civics and politics as such; nevertheless, they exhibit civic and political habits that are different from other Canadians. Besides voting, they are unlikely to join political parties, unions, or interest groups; they also know little about politics than other Canadians (O'Neill, 2007)

For a majority of young people civics and politics is a game in which they are hardly if ever allowed to participate; an arena in which their opinions do not count. Consequently, most young people feel alienated from the conventional political processes or systems. Most of what young people are given in the way of civic and political participation is unappealing because they do not identify with it. It is important to point out that, young people, unlike their older counterparts, are less captivated by conventional civic and political process; young people are more interested in issues such as climate change, human rights, and so forth (Fyfe, 2009). Low participation by young people in formal politics may also be as a result of globalization, that is, young people no longer find the politics in their respective countries relevant. In other words, young people no longer consider politicians and politics, in general, an effective way to address issues in a world where important decisions are increasingly being made at a global level. Many young people no longer feel that politics can address issues that are important to them like climate change, human rights and so forth; as such, they have by and large come to the conclusion that their interests cannot be handled through conventional civic and political processes (Harris, Wyn, " Younes, 2007).   

Research shows that young people prefer engaging in non-conventional civic activities; because they feel that through them, they can achieve more concrete results (Chareka " Sears, 2005). Young people are disinclined to engage in civic or political activities that do not offer tangible results; it is for this reason that many of them do not participate in voting and other democratic processes. According to the British Electoral Commission (BEC), many young people do not vote because they think voting has no impact (The Electoral Commission, 2002). There is a similar trend in the United States where young people prefer participating in civic and political activities that involve activism. Clearly, young people, contribute, participate and are interested in public life and politics; nevertheless, they do not consider conventional political processes the best way for them to do that (Carpini, 2003). Youth understand that the right to vote is very important; they do not just find it effective. Many young people believe the formal political processes are rigged and do not offer them enough real choices, they also consider many usual politicians incapable of effecting change.  

Young people are justified to disengage from political processes that do not value their participation. Structural impediments such as, rigid party membership, domination of the political landscape by two parties, and so forth contribute to young people’s disinclination to engage in public life and politics (Buckingham, 1999). That said, young people are not less engaged in civics and politics than their parents; they do not just vote as much as their parents do. Using low voter turnout and low voter registration to measure young people’s engagement in civic and political processes is erroneous because it limits political and civic participation to the conventional political processes. Adult-centric ideas of political participation diminish the potential that young people presently have in civic engagement (Harris, Wyn, " Younes, 2007). There is, therefore, no civic deficit among the young people as such; there is, however, a problem with the way civic and political engagement is defined. In order to fully understand participation, it is essential to come up with a definition of engagement that takes all ways through which people participate in civics and politics into account. Young people are not disengaged from the political and civic process; they just engage with them in different ways from other populations. Young people are not now less engaged to civics and politics than before, in fact, they are arguably more engaged than their older counterparts they just do it differently

There are longstanding concerns among politicians, policymakers, and academics about young people’s disinterest in formal civic and political processes. Young people, especially in developed countries like Australia, the US, Canada, Britain, and so forth are increasingly choosing not to vote; at the same time, an even bigger number of them are avoiding conventional democratic processes’ altogether. However, contrary to popular belief; it is emerging that young people are not necessarily disengaging from civics and politics but are engaging in them differently.  Although many politicians and policymakers have understood this to mean a civic deficit on the part of young people; evidence indicates that young people are just engaging in new types of democratic processes. In other words, youth have moved away from traditional political engagements to new political practices which have so far been unrecognized.


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Chareka, O., " Sears, A. (2005). Discounting the political: Understanding civic participation as private practice . Comparative and International Education, 34(1), , 50-58.

Civics Expert Group (Australia). (1994). Whereas the People: Civics and Citizenship Education: Summary of the Report.

Australian Government Pub. Service.

Coleman, S., " Rowe, C. (2005). Remixing citizenship. Democracy and young people’s use of the Internet.

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Princeton University Press.

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Stolle, D., " Hooghe, M. (2004). The Roots of Social Capital: Attitudinal and network mechanisms in the relation between youth and adult indicators of social capital. Acta Politica, 39(4), 422-441.

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Retrieved 11 2, 2018, from Electoral Commission: http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/__data/assets/electoral_commission_pdf_file/0019/16093/youngpplvoting_6597-6188__E__N__S__W__.pdf

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