The political indifference of young voters in the past decade
During the military dictatorships of the 1970's and 1980's, university students participated in social movements to work toward of democracy. Through their efforts our society developed into a working democracy. From the 1980's to the 1990's, their focus shifted away from social activism due to economic concerns. One of the most significant events during this time was the Asian financial crisis. University students became more concerned with finding employment than being involved in politics. Voter turnout for those in their twenties has not gone over 50% since 2002, according to the survey results of the National Election Commission.
Young people are not voting
The Observer conducted a survey of 150 YU students from January 30th to the 12th of February 2012. The survey indicated that 34.6% of students who have been eligible to vote never have. This was the highest percentage of all responses. In contrast, 74% of students responded that they intend to vote in the national assembly and presidential elections this year. Meanwhile, 46.7% of the survey respondents stated they use SNS and the Internet as their primary way to get involved in the political arena which is the highest percentage. This shows they access information on politics through new media sources rather than old ways such as newspapers and TV news. It also means that young voters are finding new and more accessible ways to get involved. Finally, the survey shows that students who feel that there is a lack of political participation by those in their twenties totaled 70.7% and the students who feel that voters in their twenties actively participate in the political process totaled only 1.3%.
Why young voters are not interested in politics
Many young voters, including university students, spend most of their time building their career by trying to improve their TOEIC scores or by gaining certificates. This has caused them to become less interested in political issues. Many students also think there is not any benefit for them if they get involved in politics. They think it does not matter who they vote for because the pledges made by all the political parties regarding young voters are very similar. This has caused the influence of young voters to be diminished, which has led them to believe that they can not directly affect the nation’s policies. It is also inconvenient for many young people to vote. Specifically, many university students have to go their hometown to vote, but they cannot due to scheduling difficulties. A complicated installment procedure at polling stations for absentee voters also makes voting difficult for young voters institutionally. This is one reason that university students in particular have become more interested in entertainment and amusement.
The recent increase in participation of young voters in politics
The rate of participation by young voters in politics has been on the rise recently. We compared the voting rate of voters in their twenties in the 4th local election in April, 2006 with the 5th local election results in June, 2010. The voting rate of voters in their early twenties increased from 38.3% to 45.8%, and those in their late twenties also increased their participation from 29.6% to 37.1%. These voting rates show that the concern of young voters is on the rise compared to the recent past. This begs the question, why has their participation increased? One reason is that there is a sense among young voters that the older generations have not done a good job solving the problems faced by younger generations. Therefore, voters in their twenties are beginning to feel the need to become involved. There have been some recent events that are representative of this trend. Many university students held candlelight vigils in 2008. These vigils signified their opposition to US beef re-entering the Korean Market. Furthermore, large numbers of university student participated in half price tuition demonstrations in 2011. Cutting tuition costs in half was one of the key campaign promises made by President Lee Myung Bak during the campaign of 2007, however, he did not follow through on this pledge. Consequently, students held candlelight demonstrations, one-man demonstrations and signature campaigns. These efforts have gone on in earnest since May, 2011. On the other hand, Ahn Cheol Soo, who is known as one of the premier experts in the field of computer security, has emerged to political prominence through active communication with young voters by accessing SNS and youth concerts in 2011. He supported Park Won Sun, a candidate for the mayor of Seoul. Before this endorsement his approval rating was only 5%. However, he was elected mayor and received 53.4% of the vote. In this election, the youth vote had a significant impact as they backed Park Won Sun at a rate of 70%.
SNS and new media are also major reasons that participation rates are growing. Young people express their dissatisfaction and demands on Twitter and Facebook. Social comments on Twitter made by entertainers and celebrities have also increased and it has attracted the attention of the younger generations. A reflection of this trend is that election campaigns via SNS were formally allowed by the National Election Commission on January 13th, 2012.
Why young voters should participate in politics
There are several reasons why young voters should participate in politics. First of all, voting is the duty of all citizens. We should participate in elections because we are all citizens in a democracy, and democracy only truly works when the citizens participate. Next, the unemployment crisis and hardships of life are ever worsening compared with the growth of the economy and the GDP in our country. Building individual careers cannot solve the problems in our society. The participation of young voters will contribute to solving society’s problems that we face, such as high tuition and the unemployment crisis. They can better demand their rights by taking up their own causes, and not counting on the older generations to do right by them. People in their twenties also have a tendency to be more open minded than those in their fifties and sixties. Their open attitudes can help to create star political movements. We should develop a sense that helps us identify pledges that are invalid through our participation, and we should have concern in politics for these reasons.
How university students can participate
The Observer looked into ways students can participate in the political process. One way is to become more aware of the important issues and trends by reading political articles in newspapers or on the Internet. Another way to participate in politics is by joining clubs that debate social issues at the university. We can also join university student committees or policy advisory groups for university students which are organizations conducted by political parties. We can also pay attention to politics through participation in broadcast programs or citizen discussion activities. For example, we can take part in audience related activities or by watching social programs such as “SBS discussion on current events,” “KBS midnight discussion,” and “MBC 100 minutes of discussion.” You can get detailed information about these programs from their websites. Moreover, we can participate in organizations such as, “People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy” and “The University Students Association for Rights in Society.” “The University Students Association for Rights in Society” (http://www.changemaker.kr/index.php) is an organization that promotes activities related to education for university students through various programs such as academies and camps. They hold discussions and seminars regarding the latest political issues. The organization has started a movement to deal with political problems and to find a path for development for our society. It was made to suggest new paradigm for student organizations in universities. They take part in various activities in the national assembly such as photo exhibitions and discussions regarding violence in the national assembly. They have conducted campaigns to make university students better aware of political issues. We can participate in “The University Students Association for Rights in Society” through an advertisment on their homepage, and we can start discussions with other people through the homepage as well. “People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy” (http://www.peoplepower21.org/) is an organization that monitors the power of the state through the voluntary participation of citizens. Moreover, their goal is to stimulate a participatory democratic society. They also sponsor various activities such as campaigns for political reform and against political corruption. We can participate in “People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy” through volunteer activities including: planning events, producing promotional materials, and helping at events.
In Korea, there are presidential elections, and the national assembly election as well as local elections. The presidential election will take place on December 19th, 2012 Wednesday as scheduled. The president's term in office is five years, and the president is limited to one term. The national assembly election will take place on April 11th, 2012 Wednesday. The term of office for national assembly members is four years. City mayors and local assemblymen have a four year term in office, and city mayors have a three term limit. All citizens over 19 years of age have the right to vote in Korea.
Gwang-Soo Kang, public administration
Q) What do you think about the low participation rates in politics by voters in their twenties?
A) I think they are participating in politics by not voting. I think politics via voting action exists, but politics via non political action also exists. It is a big problem that political parties in Korea misinterpret the inactivity of young voters. It is important that people in their twenties be involved in the political process, but the reason they do not participate in politics is that are not being presented any real choices. For example, election pledges made by the Saenuri Party and the Democratic United Party are so similar; there is no real reason for them to vote. If things come to this stage, we have fewer choices. Accordingly, they seem to think that there is no need to vote in elections. The low participation rate by voters in their twenties is due to the problems presented by the party system in Korea.
Q) What do you think about the recent uptick in participation by young voters?
A) I think young people are interested in politics. This interest is expressed through direct acts such as candlelight vigils and the interaction between Ahn Chul Soo and Park Won Sun. They actively express what they feel should change in our society through this kind of political participation. For one thing, young people saw that their support can have a direct impact on an election. However, it seems that many young people do not participate in politics now if Ahn Chul Soo is not involved.
Q) What do you think about how young people are getting involved?
A) We are forced to act in the space that is provided by the parties. This is not true participatory government. Eventually, we have to make space for citizens to participate freely. When it comes to political participation it is important to make ourselves heard anyway we can. Political participation through SNS is not dictated by parties or government. It is created by citizens. It is also important that we can create these forums ourselves. Political action through non-action such as abstaining from voting is limited. We have to actively express ourselves by voting if we want to actually see things change.
Q) What is being done to improve participation rates of young voters?
A) Young voters need to take the initiative. You should be active in politics because parties misinterpret their participation through nonvoting. Parties in Korea ignore the opinions of the younger generations because they do not vote. Consequently, the major parties do not feel the need to address their concerns. If young voters want their concerns to be addressed by the politicians, they have to impact elections by voting and helping to determine the winners and losers.
Q) What advice would you give to those who are not interested in politics?
A) The problems faced by young voters today are more subtle than they were in the past. In the 1980’s, young people fought actively against overt problems such as the dictatorial government. Now most issues center around economic concerns that are much more difficult to fully comprehend. 30 years ago there were tangible enemies to fight against, but now there is no visible opponent to fight.
This has led university students to focus on trying to solve issues on an individual basis. The issue of tuition is a good example. Most students leave the protests to others and hope it gets resolved without becoming involved themselves. Social problems are not personal matters. All age groups should be interested in politics and express their opinions. However, most university students have become estranged from societal issues and they focus on looking for a job and building their career. Our country needs the active political participation of young voters. Until now you might not have had any interest in politics, but you need to realize that you can have an impact and express yourself through the simple act of voting. We can shape our society so that it is in tune with our hopes for the future, but it will not just happen, we need to make it happen.
이현정 기자, 박정은 기자 firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com