The word from the British election is that young people are voting. An exit poll led by the New Music Express reckoned 56 per cent of eligible voters under 35 voted in the general election last week, a 12-point increase on the previous election only two years ago. That's massive.

At the last election in New Zealand just under half (47 per cent) of 18-29-year-olds cast a vote. The turnout of pensioners was around 87 per cent.

No wonder we still get national super at age 65, and continue to get it even if we continue working on a good salary. No wonder we own as many rental houses as we want, writing off the expenses against other income, waiting two years for untaxed capital gains, while young people wonder how they might ever pay off a mortgage at today's house prices.

Why do so few young people vote? It is a question that confounds everyone involved in politics - or teaching it or writing about it - because it is completely foreign to our nature.


I couldn't wait to vote. In my last year of school I followed the 1969 election avidly, even going to the party leaders' rallies, and I wasn't yet eligible to vote.

I should have been eligible, there is a good case for lowering the voting age below 18, I think. Secondary school students who are taking an interest in politics, economics and social problems ought to have a say in decisions that will influence their future in this country.

My views were more sensible at 16 than they became under the influence of university. It wasn't until I travelled in my late 20s and saw pre-Thatcher Britain that I came to my senses.

We can be confident only interested schoolkids would vote, just as we can be fairly sure all the interested 18-29-year-olds are using their voting rights when half of them don't bother. So for the sake of generational fairness on superannuation, property taxes and tenants' security, to name a few, how can we arouse the interest of the other half?

Massey University professor Claire Robinson, writing in Thursday's Herald, described a phone app her research unit is developing for this year's election to help the millennial generation understand the issues and the differences between party positions.

It was, "using a gamified digital interface, a visual and verbal vernacular accessible to a youth audience and an ability to share the results on social media".

I hope it is better than Auckland University's interactive television exercise, What's Next, this week. It set out to convince young voters that because cows are polluting rivers, the climate is changing, technology is replacing some jobs and relative poverty exists, we can't go on as we are. We need a "Plan B" whatever that might be.

Today's young voters might lap up these jeremiads, but I suspect young non-voters instinctively distrust them, as they should.


We would do very well to go on as we are. For the past 18 years we have had an era of economic resilience and political stability such as we hadn't had since I was at school, and Nigel Latta and John Campbell are old enough to know it.

We have been exceptionally well governed by both major parties over that period, with the result that we came through the 2008 global financial crisis in better shape than just about all other comparable economies and we can argue sensibly about solutions to social and environmental problems. Young non-voters, I think, know this. But they find the solutions, and indeed the arguments, boring.

What they don't know, because nobody under 45 knows the old economy, is how easily the new one could be sent off the rails. So they rest assured an election could not ruin anything and see no reason to get off the couch on a quiet Saturday.

They think you should be able to do it online anyway. If they are under 30, they've never known life without the internet. They do everything online, why not vote there? Sadly it will happen, one day when the internet's security is resolved. I'll miss the sobering act of a voting in a booth with no opportunity to prevaricate as I would at home.

Young voters are more worldly than older generations. They have grown up with the internet, in an open, market-led economy, travelled earlier than their parents. They have been schooled in biculturalism and ethnic diversity. They are more comfortable than older generations with immigration. They see opportunities in technology, not threats. They don't even worry as much as I do about the mortgages they're carrying.

They don't need doomy discussions of the future or desperate optimism, they just need some history to make them wary of their own wisdom.