GK Barry: ‘My Gen Z Friends Would Rather Vote In The Love Island Final Than The Election’

by As told to Alice Hall |
Updated on

When my friends told me that most of them weren’t planning to vote in the upcoming general election, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I’m 24, and from a young age, my parents instilled in me that it’s important to vote in elections – their thinking was ‘don’t complain if you’re not going to do anything about it.’ I was encouraged to vote as soon as I turned eighteen.

But lots of my friends, and other people in my generation, didn’t grow up with political families. For many of them their first introduction to politics was the Brexit vote. Having grown up seeing so many years of political confusion, failed promises, and being bombarded with political figures we can’t trust, it’s little wonder that so many young people have found themselves completely disengaged with politics.

Just this morning on the Today programme, Dr Helen Pankhurst, the great-granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst who led the Suffragette movement, who put their lives on the line for women to vote, appealed to women across the UK to cast their vote. ‘I’m seeing that there are quite a lot of women who are still saying that they are not sure whether they will vote or that they won’t vote,’ she said. ‘I think for a healthy democracy, absolutely everybody has to vote. Those who feel the most marginalised - it’s that much more important that they do vote, that they are represented, that their voices are heard.’

The figures speak for themselves. In the process of making my new podcast, The Turnout, we found that 50% of young people won’t vote, according to House of Commons Library 2019 turnout. That’s millions of people who have a real chance of making change not having their say. This is surprising given Gen Z are usually considered to be the ‘activist’ generation, with progressive, rebellious politics. But they just don’t feel like their vote is going to make a difference.

So, what’s going wrong? One of the major problems is lack of basic political knowledge / political language - it can alienate younger voters from the off-set. More work needs to take place in schools, so all young adults have the basic knowledge of our political system and leaders.

Then you have the fact that political parties aren’t speaking to or targeting their policies at young people. They’re often talking about pensions and taxes, but these issues can feel very removed from Gen Z, who are concerned with issues such as housing, or the climate crisis. And even then the language and conversation isn’t directed to Gen Z.

It’s common knowledge that many people my age in a 'normal' job are going to struggle buying a house. I know I’m in a very privileged position with the job I’m in, and I’m not struggling in the same way other people my age are. Most of my friends have got graduate jobs and they’re making money that they can’t really live off – and that money is all going on rent, food, and bills. So how are they expected to save money and buy a house? They feel like there is no way out. The cost-of-living crisis is at the front of everyone’s minds – it’s affecting everyone. Let’s also not forget that my generation had a tricky few years (like many) thanks to covid. A whole cohort of this generation went into lockdown as a teenager and came out as an adult.

Young people want to see real change. But they're switching off because they don't feel anything they do will make a difference. I see both sides of this, though. If younger people aren’t voting, why would parties prioritise them when running their election campaigns? Their priority is the older generation, who it seems are more likely to vote. So if we all start voting, my generation should see more policies designed with us in mind. Look what President Obama did in America. His campaign mobilised voters under 30, a group often disregarded by political candidates because of their low voter turnout. He knew how important it was and it worked.

So many people my age are just downright confused by politics, particularly if they weren’t raised in political families like I was. When you catch a TV debate live, it can feel overwhelming – or, just plain boring – if you don’t know what they’re talking about. I asked some young people: would you rather vote in the election or the Love Island final? Most of them said Love Island final because they’re interested in it. I’ll be honest, I don’t wake up and think ‘I can’t wait to check what’s going on with the Tory party’ but I do think ‘who’s had an argument on Love Island last night?’ But I know that long term, this is our future – if we want change as a generation, we need to realise the power of our vote.

Similarly, a lot of political figures feel so unrelatable. Many of them are straight, white men from privileged backgrounds and young people feel ‘I don’t have anything in common with these people, so why should I be voting for them?’ But we need to look at all the parties and crucially their policies which impact every aspect of our lives, day to day. While there may be some that don’t relate to you, there will be some agendas that will benefit you.

One way of encouraging Gen Z to vote is to simplify politics. A lot of people probably don’t know where to start, because it isn’t clear how the policies are going to affect them literally on a daily basis. Manifestos need to be a lot more accessible and straightforward if they are going to target young people.

When I interview political figures on the podcast, I ask them to break down what they are saying so that young people can understand it better. They are used to getting away with dodging the question and giving long-winded answers, but often, this means young people don’t have a clue what they’re talking about. They need to sit and think - what will make young people actually vote for us?

This is why it’s so important for this generation, as well as future generations, to vote. We can’t complain about the way we’re living unless we do something about it, and this starts at the polling station. Voting is a privilege and shouldn’t take that for granted. Plus, hot girls vote – don’t forget that.

The Turnout with GK Barry is available now from wherever you get your podcasts https://podfollow.com/the-turnout-with-gk-barry

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