There is no good news for those who see involvement by young people as the hope of the future. On the contrary, today's youngsters are less likely to participate, or to want to be involved than their elders, or
than young people were previously. Only 60% of the 18-24 group are registered to vote (versus 92% of the general population). 40% of youngsters are not registered at all (against 8% generally).
Compared with their 1972 equivalents, fewer young people have voted, urged non family members to vote, or been active in a political campaign. Politicians make a point of bidding for the youth vote, but the over 55s are twice as numerous and twice as likely to vote, giving them four times the political clout. 59% of young people 'rarely or never' vote in local elections, with over half saying they never vote at all.
Over half of the 15-24 age group say they are 'not interested in politics.'
Young people feel less sense of community than their elders. Only 65% feel loyal to their community (versus 74% of their elders). For England, Scotland or Wales it is 77% (versus 84%), and for the UK it is 66% (versus 78%). They feel even less loyalty to Europe, only 32% (versus 35% of their elders).
They know less about their rights, with 35% saying they do (versus 50% generally), or about their responsibilities, with 47% saying yes (versus 64% of the populace as a whole).
They know less about government. 9% know a great deal or a fair amount about their local council (versus 28% generally). 19% know about parliament (versus 36%), and for the European Union it is 9% (versus
17%). They thus know less and care less about Europe than their elders do, as well as about their local council and parliament.
Asked about a topical issue, proportional representation, 88% of young people say they know little of nothing about it, including 30% who say they have never even heard of it. Similarly, eight in ten young people
profess to know little or nothing about business involvement in the community.
Young people think that citizenship consists of respecting others (60%), obeying the law (56%), looking after the environment (50%), and setting a good example (also 50%). They do not think it means
volunteering to do things (15%), challenging the law if they think it wrong (19%), or being active in the community (24%).
They see their rights as citizens in terms of social services. 69% list the NHS, 64% say higher & further education, while 64% list unemployment or unemployment benefit (60%). 93% of them think they are
already good citizens. The authors point out that they see citizenship in terms of how they treat others, and what they are entitled to, rather than as something in which they participate.
The authors say:
'The institutions and attitudes which young people reject are ones which evolved in a different time to meet different circumstances. It could be that young people regard them as no longer relevant and decline to participate because they are no longer seen to matter.'
They add that: 'The efforts of governments and parties to encourage people to become involved might be misconceived, and doomed to failure.'
'Today--s young people say they are not interested in politics, and do not regard political activity as worthwhile. They know little about the institutions of government at various levels, and feel little
loyalties to the communities of which they are part. They reject community activism, and do not participate. They regard citizenship only as a way of behaving, and of having regard for others.
'The young people,' suggest the authors, 'could be right.'
Dr Madsen Pirie is president of the Adam Smith Institute,
a free-market think tank.
Prof Robert Worcester is Chairman of MORI, social research institute,
an international polling and research organization.
The Big Turn-Off, by Madsen Pirie & Robert Worcester
Published by Adam Smith Institute, 23 Great Smith Street, London SW1P 3BL.£10