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Students want voting to be easier

July 3, 2014

Students want voting to be easier

More young non-voters would be motivated to participate in September’s general election by online voting than a one-off $50 payment, according to the results of a student survey conducted by Massey University.

The survey, which was conducted by academics and students from the university’s Politics Programme, targeted 18-24 year old students to gauge their attitudes to the upcoming general election.

Of the the respondents who indicated they did not intend to vote, 75 per cent said they would be more likely to vote if online voting was introduced, while only 51 per cent said they would be motivated by a $50 payment.

The study also found that nearly three-quarters of young people get their information on New Zealand politics from the media and nearly all said they would consult the internet to get information on the electoral process.

Dr Damien Rogers, who analysed the responses of nearly 300 students from Massey’s three campuses, says these results reflect the level to which technology shapes the lives of young people.

“Among our 288 responders we have a high level of technological literacy and there’s a sense that they want voting to be made as convenient as everything else in their lives.”

But Politics Progamme colleague Associate Professor Richard Shaw warned that online voting alone is unlikely to be the silver bullet that fixes declining participation levels among young voters.

“Online voting would help – but we should be careful to make sure the solutions match the problems,” he says.

“Amongst young people – and also amongst other groups who tend not to vote, including some migrant communities, and people who are either poor and/or who have not spent many years in formal education – the critical things are to demystify the voting process and to make politics relevant.

“The technology alone won’t solve that problem – but at a time in history in which there is a sense that democracy is being ‘hollowed out’, it’s really important we don’t let a generation of potential voters drift away from politics,” Dr Shaw says.

Dr Rogers says, overall, the results showed surprisingly high levels of voting intention amongst university students, with 79 per cent of respondents saying they intend to vote in the next general election.

“There is a lot to be positive about in the results of this survey, but this is a well-educated, probably largely middle-class, cohort.

“I’d also note that, while 79 per cent of respondents said they intend to vote, 40 per cent of those who were eligible to vote in the last election admitted that they did not vote.”

The survey also found that over two-thirds of respondents did not know the name of their electorate and less than eight per cent knew the date of the general election.

“While neither of these things is terribly important this far out, it does raise questions about the true level of engagement,” Dr Rogers says.

He also says there were no burning issues identified by the respondents that were universally important to young people.

“Amongst those intending to vote, there was no major issue that was identified as important by most respondents, although education, health and the environment were the three most common themes.

“I think many young people see very little difference in the main political parties, at least not as far as their own circumstances are concerned. Those not intending to vote identified laziness as a key factor – they just didn’t feel strongly enough about the outcome or believe their vote would make a difference.

“Many also pointed to their own lack of knowledge about the issues so there is certainly scope for providing information in a way that engages young people. The survey was conducted before the announcement of the Mana/Internet Party alliance so it will be interesting to see if that changes the election landscape for young people.”

Dr Shaw says the self-identified barriers to voting are a reflection of low levels of political literacy.

“Civics education might help, but it would need to be civics pointed at the issues that matter to people, not civics taught at the level of constitutional design. It might also help if we began to question some of the things we’ve long taken for granted. The role of political parties is one of these. We still think that parties are primarily responsible for mobilising voters – but these days only three per cent of the voting age population are members of a party, so we need to explore other vehicles for mobilising people,” he says.

“Perhaps above all, we need to ask: Is driving up turnout a desirable thing in and of itself? If our conception of citizenship is limited to asking people to roll out of bed and vote once every three years, that doesn’t seem like a particularly compelling reason for voting.”

The release of the student election survey coincides with the launch of Massey’s election website – http://masseyvotes.massey.ac.nz. The site contains a full list of expert media commentators and details of all the university’s election-related activities, including the Design & Democracy Project.

The project is a strategic research unit established by the College of Creative Arts to increase awareness of election issues among young people. It will launch two voter facilitation projects, On the Fence and Ask Away, prior to the September 20 election.

Massey student election survey – key statistics
• 288 participants from across Massey’s three campuses took part; 77% of respondents were aged 18-24.
• 85% think voting is a worthwhile activity and 79% intend to vote in the next general election.
• However, 40% of those eligible to vote in the last election did not vote.
• 97% would consult the internet to get information on the electoral process.
• 67% did not know the name of their electorate and only 7.9% knew the date of the general election.
• 44% discuss politics with their friends and 42% discuss politics with their family.
• 73% get their information on New Zealand politics from the media, while 43% get their information from their families and 35% from their peers.
• Only 21% intend to give their vote to the same party as their parents.
• 68% do not think politicians are trustworthy.
• 39% do not believe politicians care about what young people think.
• 75% of non-voters would be more likely to vote if online voting was available and 51% would be more likely to vote if offered a one-off $50 payment.

Visit Massey’s election website at http://masseyvotes.massey.ac.nz
Follow our commentators and the conversation on Twitter at #MasseyVotes
Learn more about the Design & Democracy Project at http://openlab.ac.nz/designdemocracy
View our list of political commentators: http://bit.ly/massey-commentators
View our list of issues experts: http://bit.ly/issues-experts

Watch a video of Massey students explaining why they do and don’t vote: www.youtube.com/watch?v=2fYVHuRCasY

ENDS

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