A new study suggests that young people in Canada are more progressive than older ones. This may seem like an obvious conclusion. Many people right now will be misquoting Churchill and saying: If you aren’t a socialist when you are young, you have no heart, if you are still a socialist at 50 you have no head.
This is a political myth, not much different than repeated claims that leading atheists convert to religion in their final years. That is to say, it may happen from time to time but as a general rule it simply isn’t true. Many of my friends who were socialist or at least progressive when they were young remain so today. They may be less strident but they are more focused and have a deeper practical understanding of their values. I’ve seen as many conservatives move left (maybe more) as I’ve seen progressives move right. Recent research shows that most livelong political views are formed in your 20s.
I suspect that after thirty years of neo-liberal governments (I like to go back to the actual philosophical roots of modern conservative thought because it raise their blood pressure) and betrayals by so-called progressives like Tony Blair, I suspect we have a large group of people who have become convinced that there is a better way to govern societies and economies — a way that does not lead to gross inequalities and heightened civil strife.
The real issue is how do we get younger people to go out to the polls and reverse the tide in areas like social and economic inequality, the environment and the provision of core public programs. There is no doubt that if people under 35 voted at the rates of those over 55, the current administration (in many countries) would fall though who would replace it is uncertain.
I have no real answers. Exhortation really doesn’t work all that well and references to duty and so on are limp arguments at best. Why should I have a duty to vote when the state has shown no duty towards me? It is not a logical argument perhaps but it is an emotionally strong one. Having given up on the efficacy of the state — despite professed beliefs that the state should play a role in their lives — it is difficult to get people of any age but especially the young to continue to vote.
When governments make matters worse by actually making it harder to vote — and these are actions of mostly conservative parties and governments who can read the writing on the wall — or actively discouraging efforts to get out the vote, it is a tall wall to climb.
But Obama succeeded in raising the youth vote to its highest levels in two decades in his 2008 campaign, so it can be done. And the leader who can manage it in Canada in 2015 is almost certainly going to be our next Prime Minister.
And that’s ten minutes.