Chapter 6 explored young people’s general orientations to politics by focusing upon themes of efficacy and trust, as well as upon participants’ interest in, and knowledge about politics. This chapter considers the implications of these findings for young people’s orientations to political action. The chapter begins by exploring the reasons offered by young people themselves for electoral nonparticipation, focusing in particular on the connections between young people’s assessments of the political system, their perceptions of themselves as political actors, and their subsequent participatory decisions. Whilst electoral participation has declined in recent years, it has been argued that this trend reflects changes in citizens’ political repertoires rather than a decline in participation per se. This chapter therefore also investigates young people’s attitudes to non-conventional protest action as well as the commonalities and differences between participants’ orientations to politics. Finally, the chapter brings together the main themes discussed here and in Chapter 6, by focusing upon participants’ suggestions for encouraging wider participation by young people in politics and decision-making. Young People’s Attitudes to Voting Concerns over declining electoral turnout in recent years, especially amongst young voters, make the investigation of young people’s attitudes to voting especially timely. Although most participants in this study were at the time of the study not old enough to vote, the orientations of young people to voting clearly have important implications for the future trajectory of political change in democratic societies. Recent years have also witnessed a growing emphasis upon the obligations of citizenship alongside the rights that this status bestows. This section therefore focuses upon the extent to which young people perceive an obligation to vote as integral to their duties as citizens. On the whole, participants’ attitudes to voting were quite negative, with nearly half claiming that they probably would not vote in local or national elections if they were able to. This is perhaps somewhat surprising given that less than a third (31%) of respondents in the recruitment survey agreed that ‘it does not really make much difference which party is in power’. Exploring this apparent contradiction involves consideration of the reasons and motivations that shape participants’ decisions. These were essentially twofold: participants’ generally referred either to

their own lack of political knowledge, or to the perceived unresponsiveness of the political system, or frequently to both. As Chapter 6 showed, participants frequently felt that they did not know enough about politics to make informed electoral choices. However, different explanations were often elided together in participants’ accounts. Some participants, whilst not feeling knowledgeable enough about politics to make an informed decision about who to vote for, were nevertheless quite confident that the result would have few significant policy implications:

BR152: I wouldn’t know who to vote for. I don’t what any of them stand for, or what they’d do or anything. It doesn’t seem to make any difference who’s in anyway. You don’t suddenly get some drastic change when a new government comes in or a new person. [female, age 16]

Many participants also claimed to be unaware of any significant ideological or policy differences between the major parties. The perception that the policies of the major electoral parties were in many important respects identical was widespread and, unsurprisingly, this was a major disincentive for those participants who were sceptical about voting. As Chapter 8 therefore goes on to argue, the narrowing ideological terrain of British party politics in recent years increasingly appears to be circumscribing citizens’ opportunities for the exercise of genuine political choice. It may be that participants’ difficulties in discerning significant differences between the major electoral parties simply reflect a real trend towards policy convergence in British politics. The same participant continued:

BR152: They all say the same thing anyway. I did actually read this year when they did the elections what they all said, and they all said the same thing. They all said we’re going to cut down traffic, and we’re gonna give more money to schools and cut down waiting lists on the NHS ... They all say the same thing and they don’t get anything done anyway so what’s the point? [female, age 16]

Although participants frequently claimed to lack the knowledge necessary to make an informed decision about who to vote for, it appears that this participant, at least, is evidently aware of some of the key policy themes of the 1997 British General Election. What is at issue in this case is not so much political competency, but rather the extent to which politicians, and by extension the political system, are perceived as being prepared or able to deliver on their promises. Other participants felt that the political parties did not do enough to explain their policies and values to the general public, and especially to young people. Some participants felt ignored by politicians, noting that they had never been contacted by politicians and hence did not know who to vote for, or sometimes even how to vote:

EF: What if it was a General Election for the government in Parliament. Do you think you might vote then?