While apathy has long been thought to be the cause of low voter turnout among young South Africans, new research by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) reveals the real reason why many will not be at the polls next week – 3 August.
Titled “Do you want my vote? Understanding the factors that influence voting among young South Africans‚” the study found that ‘apathy’ is actually disillusionment with the current political landscape.
The study provides a detailed picture of youth perceptions of politics and the factors that influence whether they participate in elections or not.
Voter registration among young people is the lowest of all age demographics in South Africa. In the 2014 national elections, registration levels for 18 and 19 year olds was just 33% – well below the 73% average.
ISS researcher and author Lauren Tracey conducted 49 one-on-one interviews and 277 focus-group discussions with over 2,000 students in high school, Further Education and Training (FET) and university to understand what drives some young people to vote and discourages others.
Tracey’s research findings highlight that this demographic group, in rural and urban areas across all nine provinces, is concerned about four major problems – unemployment, corruption, poor infrastructure and poor education.
“Young people are growing increasingly frustrated with these issues that continue to plague South Africa,” said Tracey. “Although they acknowledge the importance of voting, our findings show that young people often don’t identify voting as the best way to bring about change.”
The researcher noted that corruption is a major disincentive to voting.
“The participants said that politics is full of corruption and self enrichment, and they see no reason why they should be interested in it, as they gain nothing from politics and voting.
“There are signs that the ruling African National Congress’ popularity is waning amongst young people and that this is a generation more open to changing their political allegiance than are their parents,” Tracey said.