This article was written by: Noor Etienne-Richards
The ability to vote (freely, equally, and accessibly) is the cornerstone of democracy in the UK. It allows people of all ages, genders, races, and socio-economic backgrounds to have a voice, and contribute to the change they want to see in the society around them. The more people that vote, the more representative and reflective changes in society and the government will be. Each individual vote gives weight to important societal changes, policies, and laws. It can be the difference between feeling supported by the government or feeling insignificant and alienated by society. Furthermore, voting redistributes power into the hands of the people, it enables us to hold those ‘at the top’ accountable, and to engage with issues ‘we’ feel are vital, whether that be surrounding climate change, education, human rights, immigration, the economy and much more. This article was written to promote ‘London Voter Registration Week’ (LVRW) from the 18th-24th September 2023 and aims to highlight the importance of voting, by encouraging everyone to register to vote, especially ‘under-registered and under-represented Londoners’.
Without representative voting, a small minority group is given power to shape society in a way that impacts society. Whether that be positively or negatively – these are the voices that represent us all. There is a plethora of data that demonstrates a negative relationship between particular social demographics and the number of completed electoral voting registrations and voting rates. This is particularly true in London, which has one of the lowest voter registration rates across the United Kingdom (Mayor of London, 2022). Individuals from ethnic minority groups are slightly less likely to register to vote and to vote, than their White British counterparts. Statistics on the percentage of those who have completed voting registration are 84% for white ethnic groups, and 75% for Black ethnic groups (with Black Africans being the least likely), furthermore, in many South Asian and Chinese ethnic groups, women are significantly less likely to vote than men (Uberoi & Johnston, 2022). Additionally, individuals living in socio-economically deprived areas are also less likely to register to vote and to vote, which often stems from feelings of isolation from the mainstream political sphere. Some other demographics that have low levels of voter registration include those from LGBTQ+ communities (particularly trans and non-binary individuals) and those who are deaf and disabled.
Young people between the ages of 18-25 are some of the least likely to vote, based on polling data from the general election in 2019, only 54% of young people voted, compared to a much larger, 77% of people aged 65 and over (Uberoi & Johnston, 2022). Young people (of any race, class, gender, sexual orientation, etc.) specifically have the potential to eliminate, what many academics deem the ‘crisis of representative democracy’ through registering to vote and engaging with the world around them. A common myth based on the perception of these statistics is that young people are apathetic, indifferent or are just not enthusiastic about politics and society however, this could not be further from the truth. This idea is heavily dependent on how one measures political participation, when purely focused on voting, rates amongst young people are low, however, there is evidence of young people participating politically in other ways such as signing charitable petitions, donating to charity, volunteering and discussing political opinions online (EACEA, 2013). This sends the clear message that young people care about their communities, so why don’t they vote?
A key reason for this is based on these groups often being systematically excluded from politics through poverty, socio-economic marginalisation, and a lack of opportunities for political competence. Therefore, it is important to spread awareness about voting, to gradually remove the many daunting voting barriers in place for many young people and marginalised communities. It can be a complex task to navigate the world of voter registration, questions such as, ‘Am I allowed to vote?’ and ‘How do I register to vote?’ can deter many young people from voting, but all this information can be easily found here – https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote. Another important reason for low voting levels amongst young people is an intrinsic distrust of the government, and the feeling that even if they did vote, no one would truly listen. Recent data shows that only 23% of people say they trust the government to put the interests of the people first (British Social Attitudes, 2020). Although it is valid to feel this way, not voting can perpetuate a never-ending cycle of marginalisation and isolation. By not voting, important opinions and perspectives are not considered, thus there is the potential for laws and policies to be made which will not consider the impact on everyone in society. Registering to vote marks the beginning of an important journey of speaking out and showing who and what you support and oppose.
At its core, empowering communities is at the heart of democracy. By registering to vote, young people take on the rewarding opportunity to shape and strengthen their community on a political and local level, not only for themselves but for future generations. An interesting study by Settle, Bond and Levitt, found that meaningful connection to one’s community not only shapes a person’s journey through adolescence but also their political participation and has positive implications on one’s role in society (Settle, Bond, & Levitt, 2011). Thus, this is an incentive for young people to register to vote, not only will you positively shape the world around you, you will also help to create a generation of adolescents who are eager to have a political voice. The research by Settle et al, also puts a responsibility on us all, to create communities and environments which ensure all under-represented communities feel comfortable and confident in sharing their voice and registering to vote.
FRED is a youth-led campaign that aims to enforce the restorative justice values of ‘Fairness – Respect – Equality – Dignity’ (FRED). The FRED campaign supports our vision to build the first restorative justice postcode in SE16 through social action in the form of blogs, campaigning, and providing high-quality volunteering opportunities for young people.
For more information, please go to:
British Social Attitudes. (2020). Democracy: Brexit, the pandemic and trust and confidence in government. London: The National Centre for Social Research. Retrieved from British Social Attitudes.
EACEA. (2013). Youth Participation in Democratic Life: Final Report. London: LSE Enterprise Limited.
Mayor of London. (2022). Survey of Londoners 2021-22: Headline findings. London: Greater London Authority.
Settle, J., Bond, R., & Levitt, J. (2011). The Social Origins of Adult Political Behavior. American Politics Research 39(2), 239-263.
Uberoi, E., & Johnston, N. (2022). Political disengagement in the UK: Who is disengaged? House of Commons Library.