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Gordon Campbell on youth voting and the RWC’s C-List celebs

Gordon Campbell on youth voting and the RWC’s C-List celebrities

The Greens’ Gareth Hughes has highlighted the apparent lack of interest by the young in this year’s election. Only about 72% of eligible 1824 year olds are enrolled and even further up the age ranklings, less than 80% of 2529 year olds have bothered to enrol.

As Hughes also points out, these figures show a steeply declining level of interest in politics among the young. Among 2529 year olds, the current 79.37% of enrolees was up at 95% and 96% at the same point heading into the 2002 and 2005 elections. Similarly, enrollments among 1824 year olds (at the same point in the campaign) had gone down from 85.70% in 2002, to the current level of 71.76 %.

The available research into the lack of interest in voting by the young is pretty clear about the reasons why. To many people – and especially to the young – voting can feel like a chore, and a complete turn-off in that it involves choice between a raft of candidates none of whom seem to remotely represent the prospective voter. In which case, the polling booth and its procedures readily become an alien place rife with potential for embarrassment. (As in: why am I here, what do I do, and which of these old folk do I ask for help?)

Speaking personally as someone who didn’t bother to vote until I reached 30, I readily remember what that utter disinterest and detachment from the political process felt like. When young, it is very easy to go through an election campaign barely aware that it is taking place.

How to turn those attitudes around? A good start would be if the rest of the voting public didn’t treat young people with fear and disdain – on everything from their drinking habits, sexual morality and driving ability. If you want the young to feel a sense of inclusion sufficient to motivate them to vote, it would be a good start to practice the policies of inclusion – rather than demonisation – in every other realm of society. Secondly, as Hughes says, further education and funds for a targeted campaign to encourage youth voting would also be a good idea.

Unfortunately, the Greens have only themselves to blame here. One of the most useful ways of promoting youth voting – Sue Bradford’s 2007 private member ‘s bill to extend the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds – was withdrawn from Parliament largely because of the hostile response to the idea among Bradford’s colleagues in the Green Caucus, and especially from the Greens’ current leadership. Even though Bradford’s proposals had explicitly incorporated the need for a targeted campaign to educate the young about the importance of voting – that’s why her proposed legislation was called the Civics Education and Voting Age Bill, after all.

Moreover, Bradford had recognized the same tendency that Gareth Hughes is now spotlighting – that unless addressed, the tendency of yesterday’s 18–24 year olds not to vote will creep on upwards to older age groups, at successive elections. Perhaps it is time to revisit Bradford’s original Bill. So far, it remains the only serious attempt – beyond mere handwringing – to address that fact that everything about voting seems alien to tens of thousands of eligible young voters.

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RWC, and Russia

For a tournament said to be of global significance, the Rugby World Cup has been notably light on foreign guests of note. Despite a rumour mill that at one time or other has had Hillary Clinton, Vladimir Putin, Alain Juppe, Dmitry Medvedev and Matt Damon headed our way for the rugby, the most notable visitor so far has been Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Zhukov, who briefly jetted in last week for the Russia vs USA game in New Plymouth.

Even then, the RWC alone would not have brought Zhukov to these distant shores. As head of his country’s Olympic Association, Zhukov’s sudden interest in rugby had far more to do with the inclusion of rugby sevens in the Olympic roster for the Rio Games in 2016. Thus – while here – Zhukov used the RWC merely as a platform to announce that Russia will be hosting the 2013 sevens tournament, in Moscow.

Nor was Zhukov, despite his impressive sounding ‘deputy Prime Minister’ title, the heavy hitting equivalent of say, Joseph Biden in the US, or Nick Clegg in Britain. Russia has a president (currently, Medvedev) and a prime minister (currently, Putin) and below Putin, two first deputy prime ministers (neither of whom are Zhukov) and below them again, seven other deputy prime ministers, one of whom is Zhukov. In effect, Zhukov is more like the Minister of Sport in a Western-style executive branch of government, than what we would normally think of as a deputy PM, or No 2 guy in the pecking order.

Still, at least he was here for a RWC game. Yesterday, RNZ’s Mediawatch programme chose to lecture the media – including me – for using Cold War analogies for the USA vs Russia game, asking why Boer war analogies might not then be dragged out for games involving South Africa.

Lighten up, guys. One, there is a tradition dating at least as far back as the 1984 Olympics and the lamentable Mary Lou Retton of US triumphalism in sport, and those bellowing chants of “ USA USA!” date back even earlier – to, apparently, the 1970s. On the basketball court vs the Soviets, that nationalism had taken some fairly ugly forms in the past.

Amusingly though, that tradition could be roundly mocked this time around. Talk about history being replayed as farce. That’s because the two Cold War rivals were playing an alien game (ie, rugby) in New Plymouth, of all places. Scoop thought that was pretty funny. So did the people of New Plymouth and beyond – who hammed the rivalry up in brilliant costumes and with great good humour. The only people who didn’t get the joke, it seems, were the po-faced guardians of media morality at Mediawatch.

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