Thursday 13 April 2017

Is There A “Youth Vote”?

When Youth Was King: But the “Youth Vote”, even in the 1960s, was never much more than journalistic shorthand. It was born out of liberal wish-fulfilment and made vaguely plausible by left-wing academics. Discovering that many of the Left’s supporters are young does not mean that the young support the Left.
DO YOUNG NEW ZEALANDERS vote in ways that diverge markedly from the voting patterns of older New Zealanders? Does it still make sense to talk about winning the “Youth Vote”? And, if it does, which of our political parties stands the best chance?
There was a time when people took the notion of a Youth Vote very seriously indeed. By the mid-1960s, the early cohorts of the Baby Boom Generation were entering their late teens and early-twenties. Middle class children in unprecedented numbers were pouring into new and expanded university campuses. By the end of the decade, the impact of decolonisation and the Vietnam War had transformed, “students” into an important political category.
The oft-demonstrated political activism of college students, when combined with the explosion of what Time magazine called “Youth Culture” (forever associated in the minds of “anyone over thirty” with popular music, long hair, sexual licence, recreational drug-taking and Dr Timothy Leary’s infamous formula: “turn on, tune in, drop out”) encouraged the notion that “anyone under thirty” shared a common set of generational expectations and interests. Without this “Youth Vote”, it was suggested, the electoral success of mainstream political candidates could not be guaranteed.
This was by no means as fanciful as those living fifty years after the watershed year of 1968 might think. Had not President Lyndon Johnson been routed by Senator Eugene McCarthy’s “Children’s Crusade”? Supported overwhelmingly by young anti-Vietnam War student activists, McCarthy had run the President embarrassingly close in the New Hampshire primary of January 1968. Days later, Bobby Kennedy, also running on an anti-war platform, entered the race for the presidency. By March, Johnson was telling Americans that he would not seek, nor would he accept, his party’s nomination. The “Youth Vote” had driven LBJ from office.
Four years later, right here in New Zealand, the “Youth Vote” was being taken just as seriously. Mass demonstrations against the country’s involvement in the Vietnam War had been a feature of the early 1970s. University students comprised the overwhelming majority of these anti-war protesters. Few political scientists questioned the importance of the anti-war movement in securing the Norman Kirk-led Labour Party’s landslide election victory of 1972. Two years later, Labour attempted to lock-in the Youth Vote by lowering the voting age to 18.
But the Youth Vote has always been a political illusion. Middle class university students in the 1960s and 70s made up only a small part of the Baby Boom Generation. Most young Americans and New Zealanders of that era did not go to university. By the time many of them turned 18 they had been working full-time for two or three years. Factory workers and shop assistants had much more in common with their parents and co-workers than they did with placard-waving varsity students. If they voted Labour it wasn’t on account of the Vietnam War, but because voting Labour was what Mum and Dad, Grandma and Grandpa, had always done.
And even among the university students themselves there were sharp divisions. The long-haired, left-wing radicals might be the ones everybody saw on the television news, but back on campus there were thousands of politically conservative students who thought and voted very differently. A university education was – and remains – a middle-class rite-of-passage. And most middle-class people then, as now, support National – not Labour.
In truth, the “Youth Vote” has never been much more than journalistic shorthand. It was born out of liberal wish-fulfilment and made vaguely plausible by left-wing academics. Discovering that many of the Left’s supporters are young does not mean that the young support the Left.
So, why the Greens believe that positioning twenty-somethings Jack McDonald and Chloe Swarbrick high on their Party List will attract the support of “Millennials” (the latest journalistic coinage) is anybody’s guess. To be young does not necessarily make one Green – just ask David Seymour and Todd Barclay!
The best evidence for something called the “Youth Vote” is, paradoxically, the large number of young people who do not vote at all. Whether out of ignorance, indolence, or principled resistance to a perceived lack of credible electoral alternatives, tens-of-thousands of 18-25-year-olds simply do not make it to the polling booths on Election Day.
Of those who do make it, the vast majority come from voting households. Ballots, like apples, seldom fall far from the family tree.
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 7 April 2017.


Guerilla Surgeon said...

Couple of points.

Firstly there were a whole lot of students knocked on doors for Mike Moore in the day. Many ending up feeling quite betrayed. So it's not just voting maybe?

There were also a shitload of working class people, including me and just about everyone in my class at school who went to university because it was essentially free. I don't know what my parents thought about that funnily enough, their ambition was for me to stay at school and till form 7. But they never stood in my way. And my mother saved up the family benefit for a year and gave me the money at the beginning of my first year at Auckland university so I could buy some clothes. Because before that I'd worn the same jacket from age 11 to age 16, and you know what sort of growing you do then. :) I'm not sure what the proportion of working-class students that go to a university is today, I guess it could be even higher. But I somehow doubt it.

peteswriteplace said...

Didn't know many who went to university. Working class boys looked for apprenticeships, or labouring jobs with heaps of overtime. Muldoonism followed by Rogernomics stuffed this country.

jh said...

If I was to go after the youth vote I would invoke my Great grandmothers deathbed recollections - because that is the point of it all.
Unfortunately "youth vote" may be conflated with Auckland University's social science snowflakes.
Colin Craig has spent $1m on court costs and his opponent has spent the same. What hope for unfunded positions?
NZ Initiative has 8 paid researchers - I ask you???? Katherine Ryan's guest finished with "the banks own the government" [next financial crash].

TopMarks said...

In many respects universites - at least the top ranked NZ universities ie Auckland & Otago - are middle class enclaves.

You'll find the lower the rank the more 'vocational' the courses tend to be.

More often than not, working class people tend to gravitate toward 'vocational' courses to get a job & not to be educated.

University ranking can be found here:

Anonymous said...

Interesting factoid: in 2014, Labour came third in the party vote in the polling booth at the University of Otago (behind National and the Greens). With student debt now a fact of life, and the government limiting access to student allowances, the result is that you are dealing with a profoundly middle-class student body. With the quibble that students tend to become more left-leaning the longer they stay.

Greywarbler said...

Who cares about universities. One of my sons went and got a good job,
one didn't and did a lot of self education and got a good job without the yoke of part payment of his tertiary education round his neck.
Vocational study is fine, add a bit of the humanities to each course to give some grounding and rounding of education so we can get on with each other and get stuck in to some real work. Finding out how we can make real work, whether it's plumbing or growing vegetables or making or cooking food or making music or painting giant murals of politicians or running a recycling tip, the secret is finding how we can all be involved and doing something that helps society function happily.

The important thing is to work out the new jobs, how to monetise some things at present not regarded as work, and set up small industries so that everyone can have a skill, and get their work marketed. The enterprising in NZ have had a trapdoor cut under their feet and been dropped into the shark pool of cheap foreign competition. Developing new strategies that look to different approaches in the latter part of 2000+100 is what is needed. Really the millenium marked not just new centuries but a new way of thinking. Those who want to ensure that we all have wellbeing and love for humankind and the planet will show that by going to the young with pilot schemes, getting them to choose which they will participate in matching their skills and initiatives and seeing that they commit to the finish with suitable reward. Leave the market to look after itself, which it always does of course.

Build parallel societies so there is one for real people with hearts and integrity and commitment to each other. Then you will have the Political Party of Bremen probably playing Poi E and then some New Orleans jazz and some Pacifica, and all the young people will follow you. It won't be easy, but who wants easy. But it will get young people bouncing out of bed in the mornings with an interesting goal that they 'own' and they will vote for that.

aberfoyle said...

Mike Moore,that brings back a memory of a man at a election meeting and he Mike begging the 22 attending to give him a go.He in his stellar six weeks as the appointed political Lamb to the slaughter,appeared like a man close to a compete mental break down.
Got dealt a blow at the ballot box that year,the opposition the awful Shipley and Horror Creach,one term only, got a serious kicking three years down the political road.

Victor said...

The Greens are "niche marketing". It's what smaller parties do under MMP.

There may not be much of a self-defining youth vote in New Zealand. But if the Greens can capture its loyalties, it may well help them gain a few more seats.

It's a sensible and fairly obvious strategy, provided they don't scare away large numbers of older Green voters.

And it might prove particularly useful in Auckland, where the Green vote has tended to evaporate over recent years.

alwyn said...

"aberfoyle". You seem to have lived in a different universe than the one I remember.
Mike's "six weeks" was in 1990. He lost, but he probably saved the Labour Party while doing so.
However the person who beat him wasn't Shipley and the victor didn't get a single term. Moore was beaten by Jim Bolger in 1990 and then by the same gentleman again in 1993. Bolger then won again in 1996, defeating Clark, before being rolled the following year by Shipley.
What is this "one term" and "three years down the political road" of which you speak? It was in fact a 9 year term in Government.

Anonymous said...

I studied engineering in the early 70's in the UK. While the vocal left were busy marching, protesting and 'sitting-in', I don't recall a single engineering student taking part. On occasion we had to smash through their pickets but we never missed a class.

A great life lesson was noting who the left-wingers really were: Mostly upper class kids with posh accents, often educated at private schools.

Several decades and a few continents later I find the same is true to this day. Scratch below the surface and you'll find most of the doyens of the left in NZ today are dilettante 'trust bunnies' pretending to be working class. Faux accents and carefully hidden wealth.

All that glitters is not gold


greywarbler said...

Thanks for having a signature pen-name. It appears that you believe the saying 'that they also serve who only stand and wait'. People who do not just wait for somebody else to do something tend to be useful in society. Those with posh accents may not feel the problems of society in their guts in the expected way; however just the ability to raise themselves from their classy pursuits, whether intellectual or sporting may be valuable to all even if a fleeting experience. Better than never giving a f..k, which is the psychopathic way that many are following.

People get encultured by their surroundings, experiences and their cohorts, and just as the wealthy find it hard to really embrace the ways and concerns of lower-classes, those near the struggling bottom can find it hard to get a higher perspective, and different concepts. Sometimes having some posh input with good intent, practical learnings and mentoring, facilitates change and advancement at grassroot level where it is needed and adds some enlightenment to all.

jh said...

Pat Buchanan argues that diversity is bad for democracy
"Yet democracy seems everywhere to be losing its luster.

Among its idealized features is the New England town meeting. There, citizens argued, debated, decided questions of common concern.

Town hall meetings today recall a time when folks came out to mock miscreants locked in stocks in the village square. Congressmen returning to their districts in Holy Week were shouted down as a spectator sport. A Trump rally in Berkeley was busted up by a mob. The university there has now canceled an appearance by Ann Coulter."

Although the mass media concentrates opinion and power. When David Farrar calls immigration "enormously beneficial", he is (like Jason Krupp) and Peter Creswell not challenging the arguments of Michael Reddel and others, he is speaking through a clear path maintained by the influence of advertisers.
Diversity does make a difference however as we have (unspoken) ethnic interests.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Town hall meetings today recall a time when folks came out to mock miscreants locked in stocks in the village square. Congressmen returning to their districts in Holy Week were shouted down as a spectator sport."
Actually, congressmen were shouted down because they are involved in taking medical insurance cover away from a huge section of the population of the US. That's one of the main reasons anyway. All this Bullshit is similar to the whole idea that anti-Trump demonstrators are paid by George Soros. In which case he owes me a few bob. Nonetheless JH, your hero Alex Jones has now admitted to being a performance artist. So perhaps you could not quote him in future? And perhaps you could leave the fascist/racist/anti-Semitic vdare out of it as well?