Young people are becoming increasingly politically active, and in recent years, social media has given them a voice. However, despite the spike in young people interested in politics, we are left with a conservative government afraid of upsetting the status quo.
Much is at stake for young people at the 2023 general elections. The Government that comes into power determines if Aotearoa will take bold climate action, pass legislation to protect vulnerable groups from hate speech, introduce a fair tax system, improve student housing quality, lower rent and housing prices - the list is endless.
I sensed a real growth in political social media accounts by young people in 2020 when Aotearoa went into a Covid-19 lockdown for the first time. Social media became instrumental in educating on the issues young people are facing and invigorating a desire for change in them.
Voting in the general election is the only time New Zealanders are equal. I fear many young people have not stepped outside social media and into the real world to effect their desired change. As of June this year, only 59.71 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds are enrolled to vote, whereas 96.87 per cent of 60 to 64-year-olds, 97.5 per cent of 65 to 69-year-olds and 99.48 per cent of people aged 70+ are enrolled to vote.
These statistics are staggering considering that 18 to 24-year-olds are the second largest eligible voting body following the 70+ group. They have significant sway over the election results, and if they exercised that power, they could have every government at their mercy.
Many political parties know that young people, regardless of how outspoken they are on social media, do not get out and vote in droves as middle-aged and older people do. Political parties do not need to pander to young people. Why would political parties whose primary interest is to get elected make policies that favour people who do not vote? It makes sense that most political parties design their policies to please middle-aged to older people.
Older people tend to be more conservative (and wealthy), and in my opinion, major political parties and parties that veer to the right make policies to appease them. Take, for example, Labour, National and Act ruling out wealth tax that would have the uber-wealthy paying their fair share of tax, or National and Act insisting on introducing tough-on-crime approaches to youth offending that have never worked, or Act proposing to repeal the Human Rights Commission and all ministries that serve marginalised communities in Aotearoa.
There is hope, though. Greens are advocating for climate action, a fairer tax system, quality affordable housing and protection for marginalised communities. The Māori Party have similar policies. If that’s what young people want, they must vote for them. Instead, it seems that many young people do not vote and then complain on social media that the Government is not serving them.
Social media is vital to raise awareness, but it is not as powerful as casting a vote. I accept that young people who governments have disenfranchised do not want to engage with it, but this is the only system we have. Prime ministers will be elected whether we vote or not. Disengaging with it and complaining on social media won’t change it, but voting might.
The 2023 election feels daunting. In my opinion, the political right is seeking to entrench inequality, and young people will be the biggest victims of it. If young people want a government that protects their future, they must vote.
Shaneel Shavneel Lal (they/them) was instrumental in the bill to ban conversion therapy in New Zealand. They are a law and psychology student, model and influencer.