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What Young Voters Expect From These Elections

What Young Voters Expect From These Elections

Young voters have been a huge issue during these general elections, in which enrolled 18-24 year-olds represent over 338 000 potential votes. For this election, half of the persons who are still not enrolled on 22 September are under 25, even though the number of young people enrolled has grown since the last elections, according to Radio New Zealand. If it is sometimes hard for politicians to understand the issues about which young people are concerned, young voters don’t hesitate to defend their ideas and their point of view. A general election is one of the few moments when they can expect to see improvements in society and engage directly with these changes. For the 2017 general elections, Mira, 18, Mara, 20, and Shelley, 22, have all tried to sort out the available information and make up their own minds. Two of them have decided to support a specific party, whereas Mira has become really interested in the issues of the first election in which she will vote.

Mira, 18, is still in high school. Next year, she will study sociology and ecology at the University of Otago. Photo credit: Rachel Pommeyrol

Mira is still in high school: "I have only recently started to really look at the policies and watch debates. Before, I didn’t have much interest because I couldn’t vote. I knew some Labour Party candidates, but I didn’t really know the others. Now, I also know some from the National Party and the Greens. There are a lot of politics on social media. I am more inclined to watch or read things on Facebook which are more left-wing and closer to my point of view, so I don’t really see things positive about National because people I know won’t share that kind of thing on Facebook. They could have a huge influence because all I see is 'you should vote for a Green.' Things I watch on TV are more neutral."

Mara, 20, is studying psychology and criminology at Victoria University. She is involved in the Labour campaign. Photo credit: Rachel Pommeyrol

Shelley and Mara are more actively involved in this campaign. Mara is 20, studying psychology and criminology at Victoria University, she has a job, and she likes to volunteer: "Being involved in the Labour campaign was a way for me to fight for the things that I believe in and to change the things which are sort of wrong with New Zealand in politics. I have a passion for people, I have spent a gap year volunteering, and my sister has an intellectual disability - so there are a lot of aspects of my life where I’m passionate about helping people and I thought this was an active way to change things that I care about. The more you get involved, the more you learn, the more you feel passionate about the campaign, and especially these last couple of weeks. And you find a group of people who care about the same things as you and that can really give you a lot of motivation because they are not necessary people who agree with you, but they just care about the same things.” Her involvement takes the shape of not only phone calling and door knocking, but also working on the election day: "I’ll be one of the hub captains and when people go door knocking they will report back to me. It's a sort of a leadership role, making sure everyone is on the right track. I’ll be involved pretty much everywhere they need me.”

Shelley, 22, is a graduate after having studied politics. She is working at the finance service of the University of Auckland. She is involved in the National campaign. Photo credit: Rachel Pommeyrol

Shelley’s involvement has the same basis, but because she is only 22 and working in the finance service of the University of Auckland, the part she plays in this campaign is mainly turned toward young people: "I’m more Auckland Central-based and get engaged with students. I go to the universities, to the hostels, and wherever young people are. They can see us actually engaged. A lot of people look at me saying she is young and other people don’t agree with the National policies. Sometimes we go to initiate and we can talk about what they would like to do. I am also working on things around the campaign bus. As I have studied politics, I think a lot about different campaign strategies, including door-knocking, direct mail, phone calls, fund-raising, and supporting new candidates.”

If these two women are so involved in the campaign, it is mainly because they know the importance of the vote for young people. For Mara “There are a lot of policies that affect youth. A lot of students and young people are struggling to be able to pay their rent and with mental health policy as well - things that affect a lot of them. I understand why people sometime don’t want to vote, because they don’t feel they have a voice, that their vote won’t count, that they don’t feel engaged with politicians, or that they just don’t trust politicians. But every vote does count. Voting is supposed to represent every New Zealander and if people don’t vote we will never know what the results would have been if they had voted. In the last election, the number of people who didn’t vote was the same number who voted for the National Party. It’s surprising how voting can change the outcome of an election, and universities really encourage their students to vote.”

Mira can understand why some young people don’t vote: "A lot of people are just not interested in politics. They don't think they will make a difference if they do vote. It may also be because they see the Labour Party has become a little bit more central and does not reflect their ideas.”

The main issues of the campaign for young people, according to Shelley, concern their future: "I live in Auckland, which is why housing and transport come up. But there are mostly urban issues. A lot of New Zealand voters are actually regional and the North and South Islands have different issues. One common issue is the mental health system, and obviously people care about employment prospect for young people, how easy it is to get a job from wherever you come, being a graduate or having left school.”

For the second time she votes in a general election, Shelley has waited to receive her early vote card to vote as soon as possible. It’s also the second time she has voted for the National Party: "There have been a lot of policies already implemented. Nine years is quite a long time to do stuff. We have tried different methods in law enforcement and crime in terms of youth offenders. We want to give more support to families, especially in terms of accommodation and tax credits. I think the real issue comes down to make sure these options are available to everyone - access to important things like healthcare, education, assisting vulnerable people, and also doing that in the best way for everyone. I’m pretty happy how things have been going, but obviously we can do better. There are some more things we can really champion in term of greater personal autonomy. There is a lot of good stuff coming through showing what we can now afford, especially with housing and transport, which should help young people.”

The Labour Party was an obvious choice for Mara, who has supported Grant Robertson’s campaign to remain MP for Wellington Central: "Labour is the party that I will vote for because they care about a lot of the things I think are important. There is a misconception that Labour doesn’t believe in a strong economy, but Jacinda Ardern said that the economy flourishes when people are flourishing. We should look after people first, their housing, and education policy. We should put more money into mental health and try to eradicate child poverty, making sure that people have access to school. These things are important to me because I believe everyone should have the same opportunities. I do believe that a change of government can change things, especially when you have been in opposition for nine years. You really want to use the next three years you have. The Labour Party has a 100-day plan and it’s a really inspiring model for me because it’s a real commitment. I know that politicians often say things and then don’t move, but from being involved and knowing a lot of politicians within the Labour Party, I can see they do really want to change things.”

Mira also wants to see a change of government: "The fact is that National have been running things for the past last nine years. We’ve seen an increasing gap between rich and poor and not much has been done about climate change, which I think is probably the top issue. I think that the Labour Party and the Greens have much better policies and will do a lot more towards climate change. If we don’t address that, we're just not going to have a future. I think we really need a solid plan about climate change, like banning plastic bags. Also, reducing poverty and the wage gap between men and women, as well as income inequality. A huge change is also needed for homelessness in New Zealand. We have to find out how to help people get off the street. I’m going to vote for the Greens for the party vote and then I’ll probably vote for Labour’s candidate."

A vote remains a very personal choice and Mara understands why people might well decide to vote for another party: "I learned in psychology that most people share the same basic set of five values, but some are stronger than others. I think people who support other parties don’t necessarily not care about things that Labour is putting first, they just value other things more. For those who support National, tax cuts and building a strong economy are very important. But for me people should always come first. I find it hard to understand why young people would vote National because we are surrounded every day by students struggling to pay their loans and pay the rent, who live in flats which are horrible. Those are the things Labour is passionate about. I don’t see why they would vote for another party, but at the same time I know some people don’t necessarily value those things."

The conversations she has had with many young people during this campaign have enabled Shelley to see why some of them chose another party: “People’s expectations are different because of their levels of realism and idealism. They have an obvious force of belief. A lot of people think young people are more idealistic and so vote left, but that’s not entirely true."

Whichever parties end up forming the next government, young people have a lot of different expectations. Only the three next years will show whether these expectations are met.


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