Durban - Voter apathy among the youth could be a potential banana peel for political parties in this year’s general elections, despite the novel attempts from the Independent Electoral Commission and political parties to attract the youth to vote, according to a researcher.
Political parties and the IEC have, for this election, increased their presence on social media platforms to reel in the youth vote and particularly the “born free” generation who are first time voters.
The youth movements of the dominant political parties believe their presence “online” attracts and motivates the youth to vote. Yesterday was the final voter registration day for the final batch of voters to be penned for the elections, which will take place on May 7.
IEC statistics yesterday afternoon showed the youth were reluctant to vote:
* Just under 500 000 (26 percent) 18- to 19-year-olds had registered to vote of 1.9 million potential voters in that age group.
* About 5.3 million (55.6 percent) 20- to 29-year-olds had registered to vote of a total of 9.5 million.
* And about 6.1 million (87.8 percent) 30- to 39-year-olds had registered to vote of a total of 6.9 million.
Lauren Tracey, a researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, said there was voter apathy among the youth – but this was not unique to South Africa. “It is difficult to say whether initiatives such as social media campaigns by political parties and the IEC will inspire young people to vote. It appears many young people do not think voting will necessarily change anything or have any impact on their lives.”
Many will be concerned about youth unemployment, access to quality education or corruption, but they don’t necessarily see how voting will lead to the improvement of these challenges, she said.
”Whether this is impacted by the presence of new and not-so-new political parties is debatable. For some people new political parties could be seen as bringing a different dynamic to the table, a sense of change.
“For others, new political parties have brought a sense of mistrust and disillusionment resulting in people being sceptical of new parties.”
But youth movements like the DA Youth and the ANC Youth League disagreed, and said their presence online translated to interest, engagement and sometimes direct criticism from supporters. The IEC has roped in prominent celebrities for their TV and radio campaigns, encouraging the youth to register to vote.
Magasela Mzobe, the ANCYL’s national co-ordinator, dismissed the notion of voter apathy among the youth.
“We do not doubt the role of social media, we receive lots of questions relating to a wide range of issues and we engage, but we think it cannot replace the traditional voter contact.”
DA Youth leader, Mbali Ntuli, said party research showed the party had the biggest online presence of any political party in South Africa. Although they had had success online with initiatives such as the #KnowYourDA, direct physical contact was important.
“It is important that voters know what we stand for, we see it as a launch pad, but the success is having people go out into the community and communicating that message on the ground.”
Ntuli said DA campaigns online – like #MyFirstTime and #OurFuture – both calling for people to register to vote, were successful, but as for them translating to votes – she stressed they could not rely on tweets alone for that.
Mzobe said night clubs, shisa nyamas, churches and fashion were ways the ANC hoped to catch the youth vote.