The Foundation for the Rights of Future Generations (FRFG) and the Intergenerational Foundation (IF) award the Demography Prize, which carries a total value of 10,000 Euros, divided up among winning entrants. The Prize, funded and supported by the Stiftung Apfelbaum (Apfelbaum Foundation), is awarded every two years.
By means of this award, the FRFG and IF aim to open up a debate, based on sound academic research, about intergenerationally just politics and demographic change, and to encourage suggestions for potential future action. The invitation to enter is extended to young academics from all disciplines. The competition entries should be between 6000 and 8000 words long.
The topic for the 5th Demography Prize is:
“Low Electoral Turnout among Young People – Consequences and Remedies”
The deadline for submissions is 1 June 2015.
The official poster can be found here.
The following text will provide some first ideas for a submission:
In many of the world’s democracies, older people vote more consistently and in greater numbers than their younger counterparts. That is perhaps unsurprising: politics tends to be an older person’s game. But the global trend towards greater longevity means that the numbers of older voters is constantly increasing, and the proportional number of younger voters is decreasing. The apparent reluctance of the young to exercise their right to vote only serves to reinforce this demographic trend. The result is that politicians tend to pander to the ‘Grey Vote’, and young people run the risk of being under-represented in parliament, and of seeing their issues overlooked by governments. In such a scenario, young people may be easier targets for unpopular government measures, such as the belt-tightening associated with austerity.
The statistics make the case. In the 2010 elections in Britain only 44% of those aged 18–24 voted compared to 76% in the 65-plus age group. Furthermore, fewer than half of young adults in the UK are registered to vote, whereas 96% of those aged 65-plus are. By 2025 30% of the UK electorate will be over 65, and it is estimated that 478 constituencies (73.5% of the total) will have a ‘grey majority’ (where more than 50% of votes cast are from voters over 55).
In Germany’s 2013 general election, the average voting turnout was 72.4%. All of the age-cohorts above the age of 45 fell above this average, whereas all of the age-cohorts below 45 fell exactly on or below it. Turnout was highest amongst 60–70 year olds (almost 80%), which is more than 15% higher than the turnout of 18–21 year olds.
Would lowering the voting age make a difference? In Germany, where 16 year olds are eligible to vote in the local elections of some of the Länder (federal states), there is evidence that a cohort who obtain their voting right at 16 will have a higher poll turnout over their whole lives than a cohort who are not allowed to cast their first vote until a later age. In other words, early participation sets a trend for life.
The effect overall can be ascribed to the median voting age: the lower the median voting age, the more chance there is that youth will be properly represented. One possible way of reducing the median voting age could be the introduction of compulsory suffrage, as already exists in some countries, including Belgium, Greece, Luxemburg, Cyprus, and Australia – although this kind of enforced political legitimacy might be seen to offend the principles of liberal democracy. The question of whether the democratic act of voting should be recast from a civic duty to a punishable obligation is interdisciplinary and interesting for, for example, philosophers and political scientists.
Alternative measures to increase the electoral turnout of the younger age groups could aim to make the act of voting easier, more ‘user-friendly’ – for example through e-voting. This issue is of interest to sociologists researching patterns of political participation among the young and old, and analysing the behaviour of the ‘Internet Generation’.
The principles of democracy are called into question if any group within it become sidelined, while others are favoured. There will be consequences if young people perceive that they are being left out of the political process, and remedies are needed to ensure that this does not happen. There is wide scope here for close analysis of how these issues affect democratic representation around the world, and for innovative thinking in search of solutions.
The jury will include:
- Prof. Uwe Wagschal (Albert Ludwigs University of Freiburg)
- Prof. Rüdiger Schmitt-Beck (University of Mannheim)
- Prof. Franziska Wächter (Evangelischen Hochschule, Dresden)
- Christina Tillmann (Bertelsmann Foundation)
- Prof. Jörg Tremmel (Eberhard Karls University, Tübingen)
- Dr James Sloam (Royal Holloway, University of London)
- Katie Ghose (Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, UK)
- Dr Andrew Mycock (University of Huddersfield)
- Prof. Matt Henn (Nottingham Trent University)
- Prof. Andy Furlong (University of Glasgow)
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