900 million eligible voters, 45 million voters under the age of 25, 15 million first time voters. This is the pool of Indian citizens electing the next generation of leaders. With such a large number of young voters, they could potentially be game changers in future elections.
India, with the world’s largest youth population, is soon to become the youngest country in the world with an average age of 29, along with an ever-increasing workforce, set to be 64% of the population by 2020. Not only does this indicate the specific demographic which is going to be most impacted by economic turbulence, but it also highlights the population which should care the most about their vote. Hence, there has been increased efforts from innumerable political parties and organizations in mobilising youth votes, as their vote matters most. Yet, even with all the encouragement from external parties, the colossal question remains, “do the youth actually value their vote?”
To better understand whether the youth care about their vote, let us begin by examining the history of youth voter participation. The realisation that the youth are assets in the nation-building can be traced back to 1988, when the 61st Amendment Bill lowered the eligibility age of voters from 21 years to 18 years. This change hoped to bring out push the youth to take responsibility for their country. However, it remained largely unsuccessful as youth participation remained low throughout most of the 20th century.
One of the first active initiatives that the government took to increase the participation of youth voters was the establishment of National Voters Day, which is celebrated every 25th of January since 2011. The aim is to enrol eligible youth and motivate them to participate in the voting process. It is also celebrated to increase effective participation in the electoral process among voters. This initiative was crucial in raising the low youth turnout of the 2000s to what it is today.
The most obvious way to encourage youth vote is by education and spreading awareness. In a democracy, every vote counts and it is important for the youth to know the value of their vote. The youth must vote to protect their fundamental rights, to celebrate democracy and to make their concerns heard. In order to solve problems common amongst youth, it is essential for them to understand their responsibility towards the country in voting. Many organizations, such as Bangalore Political Action Committee (B.PAC), have encouraged the youth to vote, by mobilising first-time voters. The recent general election had around 15 million first-time voters (aged 18 to 19) that were added to the nearly 900 million electorates.
Secondly, online voting systems could considerably boost the young voter turnout as it provides the opportunity for Indian citizens to vote regardless of their internal migration, i.e migration within the country. This has already been identified as a key issue stopping people from voting, as more than half of the youth today, works and lives in cities in which they are not registered to vote. Hence, the country is losing out on a large pool of individuals willing to vote. The lack of online mediums of voting, allow for many to skip voting due to external constraints. A minimum of 45% of the youth living in urban areas said that they would not be travelling back home to vote.
Indians not planning to travel home to vote:
The issue of migration is also substantial for other age groups in the workforce. Ms. Pant, a teacher in Delhi NCR stated that “The process of changing your registered place of the vote is highly inconvenient and requires much effort, yet results in failure as the online systems in place are faulty; I have attempted to change my place of voter registration multiple times but have failed.” This further emphasises the seriousness of the matter and adds to the sheer number of lost votes. This is a sector where change must be seen. Improvements are being made to tackle this issue for future elections, with states like Gujarat having allowed online voting in its civic body polls and hoping to expand the system to more important elections.
Current youth voter participation, as indicated by the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections, suggests that the youth do vote as there was increased participation of first-time voters across the country, along with a heightened interest in political activity amongst the youth through student forums and youth networks. 2019 observed that West Bengal has recorded the highest number of first-time voters in the country. Data showed that 20.6 lakh youth voters (specifically in the group of 18 to 20 years) voted in West Bengal, followed by 20.3 lakh in Rajasthan, 16.7 lakh in Uttar Pradesh, 13.6 lakh in Madhya Pradesh, and 11.9 lakh in Maharashtra. Additionally, recent surveys conducted by Firstpost, suggested that around 55% of the voters in the 18 to 21 age group had a clear intention to vote in the Lok Sabha election, indicating that the youth are turning up to vote in large numbers. However, there is a difference between simply voting and making an informed choice. Does the youth understand this difference and its impact? Voting for the sake of voting degrades the value of the vote and counteracts efforts to form strong, stable and moral governments.
The 2014 Lok Sabha elections witnessed the highest youth participation with a 69% turnout and intensified support from the youth. This turnout can be linked back to the various strategies taken up by political parties to mobilize youth votes. For instance, the Congress party championed an advertisement campaign which consisted of 40-second clips with the punchline “Katter Soch Nahi, Yuva Joshi” (translating to “No Fascist Beliefs, Only Young Passion”). This strengthened the connection between young leaders and the youth of India, hence pushing the youth to vote. The advertisement campaign was part of the party’s “har haath shakti, har haath tarraki” (haath/hand is the symbol of the Congress party) campaign in which the 23-year-old female Muslim, Amin, the president of the National Students’ Union of India (students’ wing of the Congress) was given a chance to shine. Amin, a strong figure of young power, promoted the Congress party for their accountability and transparency, which might have grabbed the youth’s attention. This novel campaign-style utilising digital media and young leaders could have been a key strategy to connect with the young voters and inspire them to vote. Regardless, the 2014 Lok Sabha elections played out mostly in favour of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who received 39% of votes from first-time voters. In comparison, Congress could only secure 19% of first-time voters. This could stem from the importance BJP gave to social media campaigns to reach out to the youth. A team of 60 Swamyam Sevaks (rigorously selected from 2 lakh applications) were created to bring BJP’s campaign to online platforms in order to reach the new-age digital demographic of India.
Every year, there are about two crore young people turning 18 as per the 2011 census data and the 2019 Lok Sabha election was expected to have ten crore first-time voters, while only four crore voters aged between 18 and 19 were registered with the Election Commission. Political parties have used various youth campaigns to draw the attention of the youth. Narendra Modi in his first Mann Ki Baat for 2019 addressed youth achievements and urged the youth to vote in the election. “All of us must realise that being a voter, earning the right to vote, is an important rite of passage in one’s life,” said PM Modi. It could be suggested that the government really cares about the youth from all sections of the society with the launch of the ‘Yuva Swabhiman Yojana’. This scheme provides economically weak youth (21 to 30 age group whose income is not more than 2 lakh rupees annually) in urban areas a 100-day employment guarantee in a year. This scheme could really encourage youth to take part in elections and to hear out the policies that will be introduced by the candidates to solve the concerns of the youth. On January 20, 2019, the BJP held a rally (Yuva Vijay Sankalp) on Ramlila Maidan in the national capital with the motive of ensuring the development of the youth. The BJP released a toll-free number to inform the youth about the Lok Sabha elections. On January 21, BJP launched a campaign “Modi Yuva Shakti” in Mumbai to gain youth votes for PM Narendra Modi. The campaign included spreading awareness about BJPs plan for the growth and development of India and was part of a plan to visit around 60 colleges in Mumbai.
Seemingly, the most effective way to bring out youth voters is through online campaigns, most commonly passed on in the form of Whatsapp messages and Facebook posts. The nature of the generation’s rising desire for ‘quick info’ drives these campaigns, as the young are more likely to respond to flashy, fast and fanatical posts rather than elaborate advertisements which take up too much of their time.
Campaigns aside, as aforementioned, education is key in enabling the youth to understand the importance of their vote rather than just making them vote. A countless number of organisations work to educate the youth regarding candidates, policies and agendas to ensure the youth make informed decisions. A study done by an English news app known as Inshorts shows exactly whether the youth make educated choices or not. The surveys highlighted that over ¾ of young Indians extensively research each candidate in their constituency before voting. The current trend seems to show that the youth are aware of their rights and consider casting votes a responsibility as citizens. Inshorts surveyed 200,000 individuals, mostly aged between 18 and 35 years in March 2019 in face of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. A majority of the respondents hailed from urban areas like Delhi National Capital Region, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Pune, Hyderabad, and Chennai. It can be said that the youth understand the weight of each vote and choose to vote only after they are aware of the candidates and their policies, to make the best possible choice they can.
Indians sedulous on their voting habits:
When further looking into this data, it can be seen that while the youth vote, and most make an informed choice, the outcome of this sudden influx of youth votes can vary under many circumstances. One would wonder whether an increase in youth votes would bring forward younger candidates.
Before critically viewing the core issues the youth wish to tackle, one must recognise that a common misconception has been that most of the youth are not religiously affiliated or highly ideological. However, survey results by Inshorts showed that around 40% of the respondents believed that ideology is the factor that they highly likely to consider while voting. This is key in understanding the impact of youth votes on past and future elections, as aside from economic and social wants, religion and ideology play a crucial role in swaying voters. The main concerns of the youth today include a lack of job opportunities, women’s safety, a need for fair governance, and rural development, as reported by a plethora of election analysis reports. These concerns are what first drew the youth to the BJP in 2014; a key issue for this electorate is Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s failure to deliver on his promise of creating 10 million jobs per year — a pledge that won him the hearts of India’s youth back in 2014. With over 30% of India’s youth (eligible to work/not studying) being unemployed, issues relating to job creation and higher education take the limelight. Adding on to the distress of the incoming workforce, the country’s expenditure for higher education (as part of the total budget) has remained the same at 1.47% for the past 12 years as of 2019. This is driving the youth to speak out more against the current government and leading to unrest among those in the age of looking for a job or studying.
Today, the youth’s vote would bring in leaders more passionate about reviving the country’s dying economy as compared to other concerns. As seen in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the youth were observed to vote for candidates with publicly published agenda’s to create jobs and recharge money into the economy. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the youth would vote for younger leaders, conversely, the youth have actually been seen to vote for leaders who are highly educated with either a professional degree or masters. The youth prefer to vote for those with secondary education as they believe that such candidates are more likely to be concerned about the public’s qualms regarding education and the job market. Thus, the candidates most likely voted into government by the youth are to be between 35 to 50 years, taking into consideration the education level of the candidates in this age group. When finding young candidates (under the age of 30) to vote for, oftentimes they are not as educated due to them simply pursuing politics earlier in life as compared to a professional degree. This directs the youth vote away from young candidates.
Nevertheless, the youth equally vote according to the promises candidates make, and thus, since younger leaders share the same concerns as them, voters may lean toward young candidates as compared to those more elderly. So, do the youth look for age primary to the candidates political, economic and social agenda? The answer is no; the youth today vote according to factors directly affecting their lives rather than age, which is seen as an unnecessary condition on candidates. Education, and what the candidate truly has to offer to play an important role in the youth’s voting process, which leaves neither favouritism nor detestation towards young candidates in the running.
The study of youth voter participation leaves one with more questions than answers, and the right step forward is usually hidden and hard to find. Yet, to bring in leaders that care and encourage a nation where everyone is equal economically, politically and socially, we must continue to support the youth in their endeavours to vote and be voted for. They bring new perspectives to the table and offer outlooks unheard of; pioneering progress. Hence, it is important to understand the trends of youth voter participation and what conclusions it may draw.
To encapsulate our argument:
- The youth do actually vote in large numbers and will continue to do so with the increasing trend of first time voting and youth participation. The better awareness and creation of facilities for digital voting will only push this number to increase in order to encompass the millions of voters that desire to vote but cannot.
- The youth that live in urban areas care highly about their vote and carry out extensive research about candidates before making an informed choice on who to vote for. The same cannot be said for the rural youth as data coming from the sector is still lacking, this causes a slight misinterpretation of the data and can lead to the misleading belief that ‘all youth research before they vote.’ It is imperative to know that while most of the youth — specifically those in urban regions — make informed decisions through reviewing all candidates, all the youth do not do so.
- The youth vote is not set to have one particular outcome; there is little uniformity in who they choose. However, the youth vote is based on similar criteria, which is whether the candidate can deliver the economic and social change they wish to see, specifically those related to job creation. The youth vote with purpose, hence while we cannot necessarily expect younger leaders with their vote, we can expect leaders that care for the real issues that plague our country such as hunger, poverty and inequality rather than fighting out petty battles linked to their own dishonesty and corruption.
This all may look very good on the surface level, as if the youth vote and respect their vote, so what’s the problem? Most is not all. And we must work to change that; to allow every young citizen to vote and make suggestions to push our country forward. As the next generation votes, we can be sure to find voices that are insistent upon change, voices that shout loud and clear, voices that resonate. Make the youth vote, and with them, take the country forward.
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