Dernière mise à jour : 27 sept. 2020
Usually, young people are seen as not very interested in politics. They are “abstentionists”, have “little involvement”, are “individualists” or even “a threat to democracy”.
But those opinions are unrepresentative of the reality. As political science students, we chose to re-establish the truth. Separated into two groups, we worked both with our Welsh colleagues from the University of Cardiff, and with other students from Rennes 1. We shared a survey with them, questioning their political participation. Most of our Welsh counterparts study political science, but some of them study other fields (law, sociology, economics, etc).
The first group worked with the students from Cardiff and submitted a survey made up of 28 questions. The first topic was « political participation », then « political feelings and current political representation », one topic was « about the news », another one about « influences », and the last topic was « political knowledge ».
The second group worked with Rennes 1 students and made a survey based on 5 topics : “About you”, “Politics and You”, “Voting and elections”, “Political Parties” and “Politics and the Internet”.
What is interesting is that, in total, we got 239 answers ; this a great portrayal of young people’s opinions.
Let’s start with group 1 : As a matter of fact, the majority of students surveyed are in political science, with more than 60%, but some of them are law or international relations students. The rest are people studying for two bachelor’s degrees and one of which is politics.
There’s a strong majority (over 80%) which feel skilled in politics. We can imagine that that is linked with their studies, because they have the required knowledge.
Then, these graphs make us aware of the limits of the representative system that the United Kingdom faces today. Indeed, 57 % of students don’t think that the current representative system is effective. A majority of them are not satisfied with the way they are represented. A reason to explain these numbers is maybe the fact that a third of students feel angry towards politicians whereas a quarter feel confident and 10% are disgusted by them. Concretely, only a minority trust them. These numbers partly explain the high abstention rates observed in the last elections.
We know that every student who answered checks the news, at least daily. But now, where do they look for political information and what is the influence of the media on their political opinions ?
The first question, (where do you look for political information ?) shows that only one student (7.1%) gets their information thanks to television, as well as from the radio. A quarter of them read newspapers. Finally, two thirds of the Welsh students (67,9%) rely on the internet and social media to keep themselves updated, it emphasises that the internet is now the most common source of information.
These students are aware of the strong political dimension of social media since among the 28 respondents, only two (7%) answered ‘’no’’ to the question ‘’Do you consider social media as a way to get involved in politics ? “.
However, when we asked them if the media had an impact on their political opinions about Brexit (graph n°22), the feelings were much more divided. Only two of them (7.1%) were highly influenced by the media while a third (32.1%) has held doggedly to their positions. Most of them (61.7%) were mildly or a little bit influenced by the articles they read. It shows that people read or follow only the media with which they agree, and that strengthens their minds.
When did you feel concerned by political life for the first time?
The last graph deals with the approximate age of students when they felt concerned by political life for the first time. And we can establish that two majorities are taking shape : out of 28 students, 14 students (50%) felt concerned by political life for the first time in middle school. Then 13 students (46,4%) took an interest in political life for the first time in high school. Finally, only one student (3,6%) got interested in political life for the first time in university, and anyone felt concerned by political life for the first time during his active life. But we can highlight the fact that there wasn’t the possibility for the students to say that they didn’t feel concerned by political issues.
What we can retain about this graph is that thanks to school, children are taking an interest in political life as soon as possible. And that could be a surprise for parents to know that a majority of children feel concerned by political life as soon as middle school because it’s a young age. What’s more, if they are all going to university, we can expect with this graph that every student will feel concerned by political life at the end of university. So this graph shows that school is indeed giving a political education, or at least provides the keys to understanding the country’s political life.
Let’s move to group 2 : This group worked with French students ; we will see if there are differences between them and the welsh students.
To begin with, we must say that we got 211 answers ; most of the interrogated persons are aged between 18-25 years old (91%)
Now, we will study the answers.
A very large majority don’t consider themselves as activists but say that they are interested in politics.
The main way for them to act in a legitimitate process is to vote (98,1 %). On the opposite side, only 5,2 % of them considered violence as a legitimate action in politics. Moreover, the majority of them (93,4 %) are involved in politics by voting. On the other hand, there are only 2,4% who are part of pressure groups.
Besides,if we analyze deeply the question “What forms of political participation do you consider legitimate ?”, we can say that the success of the answer: “being a member of associations” with 80,6 % is not a surprise. Indeed this reveals a more global trend in the attractiveness of associations in politics. Even if the vote remains the most political participation considered as legitimate, people consider that associations have a growing impact in the political process. Moreover the positive view of associations is more important in the young part of the population therefore we have to take into account that the interviewed population is young. Finally we can say that associations have a great future in our democracy, because they are legitimate.
To continue, as we can see, the impact of the political activity on social networks divides people. For 52,1 % of the people who answered, their actions (publications, sharing…) can have an influence on other people. For 47,9 %, social networks are not a way to make people aware of political questions.
Furthermore, according to them, the main important election is the presidential elections (78.7%), and the European elections come second (9%). We can notice that the elections have different aims. With the over representation of young people, we can conclude that for most of the young generation, the presidential elections are the most important to participate in.
We also observe that 65,9% of the interviewed people already used social media in order to defend their rights. We can think of petitions, information sharing, discussions,... However we can see that only 52,1% of people consider that their political activity on social media has an impact. These results highlights the problem that even if the citizens try to participate in politics to defend their rights and express themselves they have no real power to change things. Since our institutions have not yet included new internet practices for actions and expression, citizens are not encouraged to participate.
This result about ecology is not surprising because most young citizens are concerned about the climate emergency. Only 0.9% think that health is the main subject today in the political debate in France. This survey was done before the spread of the covid-19 virus so we can assume that if the test was done today the results would be different. We can also see that 62,1% consider that the immigration is the main topic of politics : this seems logical with the current reception policy of the EU. The Union is having trouble finding available places, and with the rise of populist parties in Europe, notably at the election of the MEP's.
Finally, another theme that is put in evidence in this survey is the generation gap. As we know that 91% of the interviewed persons are 18-25 years old, we can see a real split between them and the old generation. According to them, the main topics on the political debate in France are Ecology or Immigration. We can note that those topics are not the ones that our old generation could prefer. So, next time, it could be possible to question older people to see what they would answer to these questions !
To conclude, as we said in the beginning, young people are not “individualists” or a “threat to democracy”. They care about politics : we can remember Global Climate Marches, and a lot of demonstrations where young people were present.
We are young, we pay attention to what happens in both of our countries, and we fight in politics with a lot of means !
L2 Political Science
Severine Le Grand