Elections: Global, political, young: Voted in the European elections at 16

Elections: Global, political, young: Voted in the European elections at 16

The European elections will take place in Germany on June 9th. For the first time, young people aged 16 and over are also allowed to vote. But are you actually interested in Europe?

It’s a first: in the European elections on June 9th, young people aged 16 and over are allowed to vote for the first time in Germany. Previously, the minimum voting age was 18. And even if the proportion of 16- and 17-year-olds only makes up around two percent of those eligible to vote: the new regulation is a milestone for Germany. But to what extent are young people actually interested in Europe? And what do you think of the reform?

Schoolyard with politics

“We think voting at the age of 16 is very good,” says the chairman of the Baden-Württemberg State Student Advisory Council, Joshua Meisel. Having the opportunity to participate in democracy as early as possible will ultimately “reduce disenchantment with politics,” says the 19-year-old. “You realize early on that you can also have a say and that you are taken seriously as a young voter.”

Meisel remembers how the 2016 US presidential election was discussed at school in fifth grade. Whether people talk about the EU as much? “Europe is a topic on which opinions differ somewhat. There are those who are very passionate about Europe,” he says. And then there are others for whom regional, local and federal politics are more important. He himself is an enthusiastic European: “Personally, I think it’s very, very important for Europe to vote and take part, because the EU has long been a guarantee of peace in Europe.”

Global thinking at 16

According to youth researcher Klaus Hurrelmann from Berlin’s Hertie School, studies show that young people are very pro-Europe. “Europe has a very positive image among the young generation,” he emphasizes. In the European Parliament’s Eurobarometer survey, 91 percent of 15 to 24 year olds said that taking part in the European elections was important to them.

“It is a great opportunity to set the voting age during school years because it gives us a state institution that can prepare the issue for all those eligible to vote,” says the chairman of the German Children’s Fund, Holger Hofmann. For young people, Europe is a context that they perceive much more naturally than some other age groups. “It is already clear to them that the problems they expect in the world can only be solved globally,” says Hofmann. So the path leads to Europe.

According to the Federal Statistical Office, there were around 1.4 million 16- and 17-year-old first-time voters living in Germany at the end of 2023 who are now allowed to vote in the European elections. How many actually go to the polls is an interesting question. Election analyzes showed a trend towards lower voter turnout among younger age groups.

There are also biographical reasons, says youth researcher Hurrelmann. The older generations see voting as a social duty. They would appreciate that it was possible to cast their vote freely. “For younger people it’s a given,” he says. “They prefer to vote if their vote really counts.”

Clear messaging and social media

Hurrelmann is convinced that young people as young as 14 are able to assess what will happen in an election. At the age of 16 you can express your voting preference. In order to secure this young group of voters, parties would have to show clear contours and communicate attractively. “Content-based orientation is even more important for young people than for anyone else,” emphasizes the youth researcher. The young generation is issue-oriented and has a broad political spectrum.

Social media plays an important role in this. “Most political information is absorbed via digital platforms,” explains Hurrelmann. Parties also have to serve this. The AfD makes particular use of social media to reach young people with its messages. “They resonate with the younger generation and the party is doing very well,” says the youth researcher. For a long time, other parties did not understand that young people could be reached less through traditional communication channels. “They’re doing it now – it might still be enough to catch up on one thing or another during the election campaign.”

Election simulation for around 1.26 million young people

Parallel to the European elections, the 2024 junior election will also take place on June 9th. Students in grades 7 to 13 simulate the election. The right to vote from the age of 16 has given an impetus to schools, says Gerald Wolff from the junior election. “We are seeing extremely high demand: the number of schools has doubled compared to the last European elections,” he says. According to the information, one in three schools will take part in the election simulation. Around 1.26 million young people and around 40,000 politics teachers will take part. “You can see that the right to vote from the age of 16 has definitely mobilized something,” says Wolff. The project has been offering political education for over 20 years and is funded by the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs and the Federal Agency for Civic Education.

Fight against indifference

All types of schools took part, says Wolff. Scientific studies have also shown that those who vote the first three times in their life are more likely to vote for the rest of their lives. “What it’s all about is the fight against indifference.”

Source: Stern

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