Discussion: Why do Latvia's young people shy away from politics?

As a longer read, we present a discussion that was held before the election, probing why Latvia's young people are politically passive – and whether this is true at all. This can also be taken as a companion piece to an earlier Latvian Radio story that breaks down Latvia's political engagement in numbers. 

Political inertia and passivity among young people is not just a Latvian problem. It often has negative consequences not only in the short term – stagnation of political processes, a low proportion of civic engagement and participation, distrust in government and its institutions – but also further in the future, shaping a passive, politically uneducated and easily manipulated society. How can you promote young people’s interest in politics, and is it necessary at all? These and other topics were at the fore in a discussion held at the Kaņepes Culture Centre.

Participants: researcher Sandra Mētra (she has done a study about youth activity and involvement in social and political processes in Latvia), Edmunds Jurēvics (member of the Unity party’s youth wing), Igors Muravjovs (member of Restart.lv –SDP Harmony’s youth wing), Dāvis Freidenfelds (head of the Student Union of Latvia), Ansis Ansbergs (candidate of the For Development/For! party in the Latgale electoral district), as well as Igors Kļaviņš (member of the Progressives party). Moderator: Ilmārs Šlāpins.

Ilmārs Šlāpins: We at Satori [culture website] decided to fire up a discussion about young people in politics. Are they really as inert? Do they have things to do in politics? Are they needed in politics? We invited people, who have become politically active in one way or another, to talk with us.

Among them are Ansis Ansbergs, Edmunds Jurēvics, Igors Muravjovs, Dāvis Freidenfelds, Igors Kļaviņš and Sandra Mētra. These young people are members of both political parties as well as their youth wings. Dāvis is the president of the Student Union of Latvia, while Sandra has done some research over this topic and given thought to what it is we know about youth involvement in politics.

My first question is: when did you realise that you are interested in politics? What did you start with? What was the first conscious political action in your life?

Edmunds Jurēvics: My grandfather was very involved. He was very interested in politics but was never member of a political party. He liked to observe it and follow it. I visited him after school and he was always watching the Skats no malas (An Impartial Look) show. I watched it together with him and that was my first brush with information about politics. And my poor grandfather always had to answer the many questions I asked him.

Ilmārs Šlāpins: And when was that exactly?

Edmunds Jurēvics: I was about 11 to 12 years old. It was about 14 years ago.

Ilmārs Šlāpins: What were the political topics of the day?

Edmunds Jurēvics: We were entering the EU, and it was much discussed both in my family and among the entire public. I remember that being the first time I became interested in politics. My very first political activity was partaking at the student council. We had a very active student council and I recall participating in the election. Of course, slowly I joined the youth wing and so forth. When I was a child, politics seemed very, very serious. As if it were very sterile – you say something and you mean it. Of course, this feeling gradually changed.

Ansis Ansbergs: I am 25 as well, and the first time I started thinking about politics was, I think, at school when I was very pissed off about the way the education system of elementary and secondary schools is organised. At the time, I was not ready to go and carry out reforms of some sort. Later I participated in student and university student councils, but I did not associate these with political participation. I really got into politics a year and a half or two years ago, when due to sheer happenstance I decided to run for the Rīga City Council and got elected.

Dāvis Freidenfelds: My first experience came when I was about 15 or 16. My parents asked who I would vote for, but I could not really answer them. My birthday is a few days before October, and later it turned out that I was eligible to vote even though I a month hadn’t passed since I turned 18. Meaning well, I went to vote earlier, before Saturday [parliamentary elections are held every four years on the first Saturday of October, but there is an early voting scheme in place - trans.] but later I learned that those who voted for the first time on Saturday could get a badge. I was not happy about that. Keeping in mind that I am part of the Student Union, I have been working with politics for about a year now.

Ilmārs Šlāpins: Does the Student Union of Latvia do politics?

Dāvis Freidenfelds: Yes, but in an apolitical way.

Ilmārs Šlāpins: Sandra, too, was apolitical for a long time. Is that still the case?

Sandra Mētra: I was apolitical for a very long time. I am 31 years old. The first and only time I have voted was in the 2011 extraordinary election. I remember feeling that I had to do it back then, but I had no idea whether I know and understand what I am doing. I voted for Unity back then, as it was what everyone else did, and I thought I had to as well, so that I don’t fall out with my crowd. I have followed political activities passively for quite a long time.

But more so the events abroad than in Latvia – the Scottish referendum, Brexit, the US election. In short, all the interesting things happening over the world. Last November I started putting myself to sleep while Googling Donald Trump and reading all I could about him. Of course, I have turned to politics in a more serious way only now, this summer. Therefore I represent the passive young people. Well, the former passive young people, as I am not a young person anymore but I do know what it means to be one.

Igors Muravjovs: I am Harmony’s youngest MP candidate from Rīga. I first realised I am into politics when, having come home from school, I was more interested in the news than studying. It happened on a regular basis, so I started to think that I would possibly like to tie my life to politics. I was much more interested in reading about political processes on Wikipedia than studying maths. At school as well, I was more into subjects such as culture studies, which is related to politics, though indirectly. Upon graduation, I started studying political science. Now I have a bachelor’s degree. I became involved with the Harmony youth wing in my very first year. 

Igors Kļaviņš: It would seem my first memories of this kind date back to 2009-2010. It was just following the crisis and I saw that many of my family friends had lost their jobs. It was a traumatizing experience which I strove to understand. My parents, of course, told me it was the crisis, but it did not seem to me that they had any wider understanding about the events. It was a very chaotic time. Afterwards it died down and it was my turn to go to university. I have a degree in sociology and I’m currently interested in politics in a rather professional way.

Ilmārs Šlāpins: Do you feel scepticism among your peers and acquaintances? Do they understand why you are doing this?

Igors Kļaviņš: I definitely feel scepticism. There’s a feeling out there that politics is a dirty thing, that it’s meaningless and you shouldn’t get involved. The scepticism is actually related to reading the news and following these things instead of active involvement. I do think it’s changing, though, as currently we’re living in a more and more European environment, while the Soviet heritage is slowly diminishing.

Igors Muravjovs: When you are studying the social sciences, it’s difficult to see scepticism as everyone around you is interested in politics.

Ilmārs Šlāpins: But you can become sceptical during your studies, can’t you?

Igors Muravjovs: Of course. It depends on your area, but often it so happens that it’s important to you to discuss something very topical with an acquaintance, but you can see it’s the last thing they want to talk about right now. It happens regularly – people don’t want to immerse themselves. It’s understandable, as delving deep isn’t easy. It’s not enough to read the news once a day to understand something about politics.

Sandra Mētra: My friends are in their late years of youth and I have a feeling that I am definitely the least competent between them. They are much more interested and involved in these things.

Ilmārs Šlāpins: Do you feel that they are weird, or that you are?

Sandra Mētra: I often ask them a question and they give me a blank look: Come on! They have followed it for much longer, and in a much more conscientious and thorough manner than I have.

Ilmārs Šlāpins: What did you learn as you sought to answer the question of whether the youth of today are more apolitical and inert?

Sandra Mētra: I know that there’s a preconception like that and I wanted to understand why. As I looked for statistics over voting activity across age groups, I learned that no such information is publicly accessible. Therefore I am rather perplexed as to why there is a feeling that young people are politically passive. Looking at the Population Register data for July 1, young people aged 18 to 30 make up 17% of all eligible voters.

Voter turnout for the 12th Saeima election was about 58%, which means that even if none of these young people voted, they did not make up even half of all the people who didn’t vote.

Therefore I think that it’s a much more pervasive problem. We, as a society, are all rather passive and apolitical.

Ilmārs Šlāpins: According to the data, the number of eligible voters keeps rising while turnout is decreasing, except for a single reversal in 2010 or 2011.

Sandra Mētra: But the reversal was not that pronounced. It was just a few percent. Since the 5th Saeima election, the number of eligible voters has been increasing while turnout has gradually decreased all the way to the 12th Saeima election. The most dramatic decrease was recorded in the 2009 Saeima election when turnout dropped 10% from the previous election. It means, however, that all the individuals whom we call young people at the moment can’t be blamed, as they were still underage in 2009. That’s an older generation than us. I don’t know what was up with them.

Ilmārs Šlāpins: Let’s return to the previous question – do you feel that the young people around you are politically inactive?

Dāvis Freidenfelds: It’s difficult to say, because, compared to the time when I first partook in an election, I have become more politically active and follow the processes closer. I have much more friends, for example, posting news about politics on Facebook. It’s difficult to follow the friends and acquaintances who don’t post news, and therefore I can’t say for sure. It would not be correct to be guided by feelings as well.

Ansis Ansbergs: Keeping in mind that I have undergone the wonderful event of addressing people, including my peers, and urged them to vote for me – yes, I have noticed scepticism. Scepticism arises quite quickly, as people see politics and politicians as something very distant. The first thing which a young person running in an election encounters is disbelief: “It’s impossible, see”, “It will never happen”. The scepticism decreases when they themselves face cases when people take political offices or when they start talking to politicians and notice that they are real people, just like them. But there’s very great alienation and that’s why there’s scepticism.

Edmunds Jurēvics: My circle of friends, just like the public as a whole, is not a uniform body and they have very different opinions both about my participation in politics and about political processes generally. I feel that, lately, those of my friends who simply have a track record of being politically active are nowadays not afraid to voice specific political views and sympathies.

That is what I have seen lately, that people I know are more active in voicing their political views for this election. There is scepticism, of course, but I wouldn’t like to denigrate young people, because it’s prevalent not only among them but among the middle class and seniors as well. Sandra’s study about youth political involvement is very good. Indeed, it’s difficult to find precise sociological data, but I found a recent study by the SKDS pollster for this Saeima election.

People of different age groups were asked whether they’ll participate in this election. From the respondents aged 18 to 24, only 25% said they will definitely participate. To compare, 51% of the people in the 64+ age group voiced the same response. We see that, in comparison to seniors, young people are twice less read to participate in the election. It’s a real problem.

Ilmārs Šlāpins: What could be the main reason why young people say they won’t participate in the election? I’ll give some possible answers: being uninformed? Not knowing who to vote for? Not believing that a single person can influence something? A lack of experience? What do you think?

Edmunds Jurēvics: I don’t think it’s a huge lack of knowledge. You can just as well suppose that a 21-year-old is well-informed and a 60-year-old less so. I think that young people have a feeling that politics are for old people. Perhaps the fact that they don’t see people their age participating in politics is one of the reasons for passivity. I agree that the second reason could be a feeling that it’s impossible to change anything. I think these two are the main reasons as to why young people are inactive at this moment.

Igors Kļaviņš: I would like to add to the thought about politics being for seniors. On some degree it’s true, as we’re an aging society and there are more seniors than young people. That’s why it’s quite logical that politicians talk more about matters important to seniors and working-age people as opposed to young people. That may be the reason why politicians can’t get young people involved and mobilise them to go vote.

Ilmārs Šlāpins: But do politicians profit from mobilising young people?

Igors Kļaviņš: That’s a tough question. Is it just a stereotype, or is it objectively difficult to lure a young person to the ballot box? I think it’s not as profitable, as young people are more active and expressive. Attracting young people could be much more difficult.

Ilmārs Šlāpins: Is it not true that, attracting young voters, you have to promise much more radical change and that politicians are not ready for it?

Igors Kļaviņš: I think it is, because young people are mostly idealists and maximalists. We become more grounded as we age.

Ilmārs Šlāpins: There’s a saying, if you're not left-wing until you hit 40, you've got no heart, but if you're not right-wing in your 40's you've got no brain. We see some people who change their political views as they age.

Ansis Ansbergs: I think I disagree, as I think that there are two main reasons why young people don’t go to vote. The first applies to everyone, not just youths, namely, being poorly educated as to what is politics and how people in a democratic society should participate in politics, about what a party and an MP is. About how it works in general and what a citizen’s duties in this system are. There’s very poor understanding about this. If we asked this question on the street there would be very few people who could give a meaningful answer.

The second reason concerns young people directly. They are very changeable. At this age they are still studying and changing their views, both general and political views. They change where they live and work, the way they see the political offerings of Latvia and the world.

They find it difficult to become attached to a certain political power, and they don’t see allotting their time and energy to get to know things that they don’t understand. They don’t enter politics as well, as, being changeable individuals, they have trouble relating themselves to a relatively statistic phenomenon like a political party. Because party values are more or less static and unchangeable.

Ilmārs Šlāpins: That’s an interesting hypothesis: that young people don’t have much time to dedicate to politics.

Ansis Ansbergs: At any rate, it’s not a priority to them, seeing as there are many other things happening, like studies, work, and changing their place of residence.

Ilmārs Šlāpins: Getting married…

Ansis Ansbergs: That’s right. Relationships too. Any normal individual prioritises his own personal matters. At that exact moment, a young person doesn’t think about general public interests and what he can do in this specific area.

Igors Muravjovs: I think it’s important to note that another reason why young people don’t want to get involved is because trust in parties is very low among the public. I’ve looked at some studies – young people associate the words “Saeima” and “MPs” to concepts like “money”, “corruption”, and “lies”. Of course, young people aren’t likely to want to identify themselves to anything related to this. Furthermore, if I am not mistaken, trust in political parties in this study was at about 10%. Young people would simply be embarrassed to tell their parents, relatives and friends that they are involved in a political party.

Ilmārs Šlāpins: And a 40-year-old wouldn’t?

Igors Muravjovs: At that age, emotions don’t play as large a role.

Ilmārs Šlāpins: People become hard-boiled by then. (Laughs.)

Igors Muravjovs: That’s right.

Dāvis Freidenfelds: I think that, in general, people want to become involved into processes they see as meaningful. If a young person doesn’t see any use or sees little use in achieving change through voting, we may have a problem. It doesn’t apply exclusively to young people, but to people in general.

Igors Kļaviņš: I would like to add that professional politics is a fundamentally alienated environment. We here are the weirdoes working and living inside of it, we have grown and become educated. Politics isn’t just going to the ballot box but also about direct action – joining NGOs, going to protests. From what I have seen of these people, for example, talking to Dzīvnieku brīvība (Animal Freedom) representatives, they admit they don’t want to get involved into politics as they see much more use from their work inside NGOs.  

Ilmārs Šlāpins: Direct action, too, requires overcoming shyness and a feeling of shame. When I first went to a protest I felt uneasy. Young people often have to face situations when they are held back by shyness or a feeling of shame. That, i.e. making participation in politics less shameful could be one of the ways to help.

Edmunds Jurēvics: I think one more reason, for which the political elite and not young people is to blame is that, in election debates, they usually discuss topics not important to young people, such as healthcare or the non-taxable minimum income for pensions. As much as we love our grandmothers, it’s most likely that pensions will not be the topic that interests us the most.

If there were more topics that interest young people – like education, housing availability and human rights – more of them could be attracted to political processes.

Our political discourse, sadly, is tended towards older people and their interests, which are also important, of course.

Ilmārs Šlāpins: I just came up with an argument to convince young people. If you think your vote or involvement doesn’t change anything immediately, it may be true. However, your involvement promotes long-term change. Voting today, a young person can influence the way politics will look after 20 to 40 years. They can influence their own pensions, not their grandmother’s.

Igors Kļaviņš: I think that young people are not stupid. They realise that voting today doesn’t mean that a single party will carry out their program in full the next day. They realise it’s a long-term process. People simply don’t see the long-term changes. These disappear in the corridors of parliamentarianism. That’s why I say that involvement should be more direct.

Ilmārs Šlāpins: By the way, it’s not just politicians who should think more. Speaking to politics researchers and political pundits I try to urge them to adopt a perspective that reaches further chronologically. Because political commentators are used to evaluating only the current situation, the current election. At max, the events of the past six months. As soon as you have to look at how an area has changed within the past 20 years, they either get lazy or disinterested. But that could help people understand the political process in the long term.

Ansis Ansbergs: Also, reality is very different from the expectations. I think it’s a bubble maintained by the media. MPs, the Saeima and city councils are positioned as tools that can do much more than they are supposed to. When people’s expectations are high and aren’t met at any time – because it’s impossible in many cases – they start distrusting these institutions and are less keen to participate in shaping them through direct representation.

Igors Muravjovs: I wanted to add something about the long-term perspective. It’s needed, but there are studies that say just 50% of politics watchers’ forecasts come true. That is, every one of us could do their forecasts like politics experts do.

Ilmārs Šlāpins: I wasn’t thinking about long-term forecasts of the future, but rather an evaluation of past processes – whether these have been fruitful, or is it rather that a bad beginning has wrecked the past 15 years. I think we should try to have a different view of politics instead of looking at it as just few bills that will solve everything right away.

Igors Muravjovs: I can add that one bill could maybe help solving a problem. There’s catastrophically little public party funding in Latvia. It’s almost ten times less than in the neighbouring countries. Of course, parties don’t find it profitable to use the money they have to attract young people and new members. It’s better to spend this money on campaigns. Party sponsors, too, would not be very happy if parties spent money on such things; therefore there are things that can be fixed on the level of legislation.

Ilmārs Šlāpins: The situation with party funding is still very new, and therefore we still have to understand how it works and how it could be fixed.

Ansis Ansbergs: I agree that the matter of public funding for political parties should be sorted out. We could adopt the Estonian model, for example, and use it in Latvia to dispel all the negations currently surrounding different party sponsors and the way these parties use the money.

All the time, people hear there’s dirty money involved, or what have you. In reality they don’t even know whether the money influences the MPs, in what way it could influence them, and so forth.

Igors Kļaviņš: But how can money that just a handful of people provide have a non-negative effect? I think that if someone donates a lot of money to a single party, he expects something back from them. I think it’s rather like an investment. Here, we should instead be speaking about public funding and that parties should increase their membership themselves so that they become more democratic. They shouldn’t accept money from a select few people.

Dāvis Freidenfelds: I would like to comment what we’ve said about the media. I agree wholeheartedly as in the long-term, instead of remembering changes to regulatory frameworks that have had a positive effect, people remember political scandals and different goings-on. I won’t name specific examples. From the side of the Student Union of Latvia I can say that, in my opinion, having educated young people is very important. Public funding for higher education is one of the lowest in the EU and the OECD. I would suggest giving funding not to political parties but institutions of higher education instead.

Ilmārs Šlāpins: What should we change in our school system to promote young people’s interest in politics?

Edmunds Jurēvics: I think there are two practical things. One of these is really very good, but not all schools have it. I’m talking about student self-government and student councils. These should be supported. If young people, being at school, can decide everyday things about their school, there’s greater probability they’ll partake in parliamentary elections. Then there’s the second practical thing. Of course, a part of young people doesn’t want to go vote. For example, many people can’t vote in municipal elections for purely practical reasons. For example, a student is studying in Rīga but has Tukums, Rēzekne, Dundaga etc. as their official place of residence. Most likely, they are in Rīga all the time and for this reason they can’t vote. Things like these should be changed too – we should allow voting in municipal elections not only depending to where people work but also where they study. This would make it easier for the people who do want to vote.  

Ansis Ansbergs: There are politics lessons in schools, which teach the basic principles of how government operates, but it would be very nice if young people were presented this information more by way of discussion, as it’s not that valuable to sit and listen to someone talk about it. While if students discuss by themselves and try to come up with arguments for or against a certain position, they start to delve deeper and become interested in these processes.

Sandra Mētra: Student self-government has relatively little autonomy inside schools. We could promote participation from a much earlier age if we showed it has a result. For example, the self-government could decide if a lesson starts half an hour earlier or later. Our school system still provides a strict format that a student simply passes through, and the things they can have a say over are very limited. Perhaps their opinions are heard and taken into account, but they still have very little say.

Ilmārs Šlāpins: There’s a traditional outlook that if a child or a young person is put into a strict framework it promotes his development and education. Or just the other way around – that it’s promoted by greater involvement in decision taking.

Sandra Mētra: It’s much easier to feel a shared responsibility over things if people understand the subject. Young people can have a theoretical understanding about the non-taxable minimum income on pensions, but if it doesn’t affect them directly they can’t feel emotional attachment. Zanders wrote about this: following Brexit, youth participation in the extraordinary parliamentary elections grew 14%. Finally something of such grand scale happened in the country that everyone felt that the consequences affect them as well.

Ilmārs Šlāpins: It will sound funny, but it’s a rather serious thing to understand that a child should be grown up to be a pensioner starting from his school days. A student should learn what being a pensioner and receiving retirement benefits means. They should learn where the money for that comes from.

Ansis Ansbergs: I for one think it’s a bit dangerous, if you keep the global economic tendencies that worry the West in mind.

Ilmārs Šlāpins: Does it mean that the young people of today should forget about the possibility to receive retirement benefits in the future?

Ansis Ansbergs: We should understand whether we’re not teaching young people to adjust to a model of life that, perhaps, has no future.

Ilmārs Šlāpins: There has been an ironic proposal to turn this system upside down – you receive benefits from the age of 18 to 30 and then start working and earning money. (Laughter from the hall.)

Edmunds Jurēvics: Speaking about Brexit, I remember the referendum about making Russian the second official state language. Back then, even those of my friends who were completely apolitical and uninterested in anything went to the referendum to preserve the status of Latvian as the only official language. It’s a good example of the way apolitical people go to vote and protect their values when confronted with a breaking point which affects them personally. Those who don’t go to vote right now can’t be completely swept under the rag.

Igors Muravjovs: Nevertheless hoping for a breaking point is not a very good idea, because at some point such a breaking point can result in us losing voting rights altogether. I think that right now is the time to increase participation.

Dāvis Freidenfelds: A recent study about Donald Trump concludes that he has succeeded in attracting more and more young people to political events such as protests. You could agree to the idea that if something potentially bad happens in society there are more people who react. Speaking of student self-government, I have heard different stories about the situation in schools while working in the Rīga student council. I think a good example that teachers, too, should consider, is giving responsibility to students and not looking upon them as children who will simply replace teachers in organising events. If people aged 15 to 16 are given shared responsibility, they feel differently about the process itself and become more skilled in explaining their decisions to peers.

Ansis Ansbergs: I would like to note that one reason why young people are more involved during Donald Trump’s reign is because he speaks with simpler words as compared to the previous presidents. There’s even research that says the simpler your words the wider your audience reach. I think that the studies concluded that Barack Obama talks in a way that a ninth-grader could understand, while Trump is even a few grades lower than that. The actual words of a politician may be pulp, but if he is able to express themselves simply enough, people hear him out. As concerns breaking points and referenda, it’s difficult to discuss participation, as we haven’t had that many referenda in the previous ten plus years. The only ones I can recall is the [2011] referendum on dismissing the Saeima and the [2012] language referendum.

Igors Muravjovs: There was a referendum over joining the EU.

Ansis Ansbergs: That’s true, but these events are really big, and perhaps if we give people a direct, democratic way of being involved in government, they will be more eager to participate.

Ilmārs Šlāpins: By the way, doing more referenda and population surveys – on a municipal level as well – is another means of trying to involve people and making them become used to decision making. Not once every four years but more often. One way of doing this is through e-elections. Do you think these would promote youth involvement?

Ansis Ansbergs: I think they would improve participation among young people. I’m not sure about older people though. From what I’ve just seen from campaigning in Latgale, I think it won’t solve the problem with low turnout, as there are many old people who physically can’t go vote.

Ilmārs Šlāpins: I have another question about greater youth involvement and changing or reorganising the election system. Shouldn’t we change the voting age, for example, lowering it to 16-17 years?

Ansis Ansbergs: I think that the age limit which stipulates at what time people can decide something is generally quite stupid. The only criterion for being president in Latvia is being at least 40. Maybe it did work back in the day, but nowadays we see that there are individuals who can make big decisions early on in their life.

Igors Kļaviņš: I think we should encourage people to enter politics at an earlier age. I don’t know if the best way is reducing the age limit on a parliamentary or state level, but we [should] grant greater autonomy on a municipal, school, and university level.

Ilmārs Šlāpins: I think there are MPs who would be ready to lift the age limit altogether. This would mean parents could vote together with their children. The more children you have, the more votes there are.

Edmunds Jurēvics: Currently many states are introducing voting rights from the age of 16. In Latvia, there’s one party in the discussion who think that it’s a cure-it-all that would involve all young people in decision making. While the other sees it as a huge risk as who knows what young people would support. I think the truth lies in between, as if we decreased this age limit to 16, there wouldn’t be much change. Perhaps some parties would attract a larger share of the vote, but the situation wouldn’t change.

The greater problem is not that some young people don’t have the right to vote but rather that 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds eligible to vote aren’t doing it.

At first we should do everything we can to the end that the young people eligible to vote go cast their votes. By decreasing the age limit we would increase the electorate in terms of numbers but not in substance.

Dāvis Freidenfelds: Come to think of it, the young people turning 18 on 7 October will not be eligible to vote, as opposed to their classmates whose birthdays are on 5 October. The matter should be put into perspective. Why can you apply for a driving license from the age of 18 but from the age of 14 for mopeds? I must agree that maybe age is not the sole criterion but on some level it’s one of the best. As you age you become seasoned in some way, you start to think and look at things differently. Even adults can regret their vote after a few years have passed. But the crazy teens at the age of 16…

Sandra Mētra: I don’t know. The 18 year is a rather arbitrary limit, a dot chosen haphazardly, speculating that most young people will be mature enough. There’s no one to look at things individually, whether the voter has reached sufficient intellectual capacities and become capable of good judgement. What’s the age when criminal liability sets in? Was it 14? I think if I’m liable to go to prison at the age of 15, I should likewise be able to…

Ilmārs Šlāpins: Become a member of the parliament?

Sandra Mētra: Exactly. These matters should be more consequential. If you have a legal civic responsibility, it should be made more equal. (To Edmunds.) Do you have that SKDS survey in print? What were the other possible responses?

Edmunds Jurēvics: There are five possible answers: “I will definitely participate”, “It’s most likely I will participate”, “It’s most likely I won’t participate”, “I definitely won’t participate”, and “It’s difficult to tell”.

Sandra Mētra: What’s the response rate for “It’s most likely I will participate”?

Edmunds Jurēvics: Among young people it’s 34.8%.

Sandra Mētra: And the rest? Is the difference that big?

Edmunds Jurēvics: For seniors it’s 29%. Put it together with those who said they will definitely participate and you get as much as 80%.

Sandra Mētra: One of the reasons for young people’s passivity in the survey could be that they are a little bit more cautious. They don’t rush to say that they’ll definitely be doing something, but it doesn’t mean they won’t.

Ilmārs Šlāpins: Maybe they are more honest?

Sandra Mētra: Exactly. They’re more honest!

Ilmārs Šlāpins: They don’t know for sure and that’s why they don’t go on lying they will go vote.

Edmunds Jurēvics: It’s interesting that young people have the highest rate – 17.7% – of those who say they definitely won’t participate. They’re more categorical as well.

Sandra Mētra: They’re just being punk.  

Edmunds Jurēvics: One of the circumstances that could explain why young people don’t participate is their income. There’s a strong correlation. If your income is lower, you’re less likely to participate. People with high incomes are the most active voters.

Ilmārs Šlāpins: If we recall Trump and his effect on youth participation, I have been told that the only good thing Artuss Kaimiņš has done is attracting previously uninterested young people to politics. Let’s not comment Kaimiņš, who is absent, but do you see that this could be true? Today there was data published on the Delfi news website that says KPV LV has more support among middle-aged men with higher incomes than those of young people.

Ansis Ansbergs: In this discussion we’ve repeatedly seen striving for 100% turnout, which doesn’t seem completely agreeable to me.

If a young person or an adult doesn’t want – or perhaps is not able – to formulate his position in certain matters, it’s better for him not to participate in the election instead of blindly following the people around him.

We don’t want everyone voting the way their parents, friends or superiors do. People should choose the representatives that they like, who will stand for their interests. But if there’s no one to represent your interests, you should go into politics and represent your own interests yourself.

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