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Young voters unconvinced

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by Jason Browne

“Them doh study we…”

The words of a young, self-employed Vincentian, hours before the New Democratic Party (NDP) rally commenced at Sion Hill.

Speaking candidly to SEARCHLIGHT as he journeyed up into Sion Hill village, the young man vented frustration at the lack of resources available to him in his everyday endeavours as a small business owner.{{more}} His mind is far removed from the preparations ongoing around.

He is one of the 2,619 voters in the 18 to 35 age group who are registered in the East Kingstown constituency. 1,347 women and 1,272 men who may as yet be convinced to participate on behalf of the future they seek to create. This age range represents the illusive “swing vote.” That 10 per cent of voters, who may change direction and boost a party’s prospects, resides with the young and unconvinced.

The story of Sion Hill on Saturday, May 9 is one of contrast and tension. The pace and volume of activity around the preparations for the night’s political rally by opposition party the NDP is front and centre, with sound checks and music overpowering lively back and forth chatter amongst neighbours. Higher in the “Village” itself, rum shops play a soundtrack of new music made in support of the ruling Unity Labour Party (ULP). Removed from both hives of activity, a group of young men blast their own soundtrack, dancehall and soca, and have seemingly nothing to add to the overall narrative of political identity.

East Kingstown has long remained a stronghold of Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace. The show of strength that envelopes the Sion Hill community later in the evening is lost on these youth, however, as a climate of apathy has become the default response to the beginning of a new elections cycle.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, our subject lamented the “slavish” ways older members of the society take to political stances. Party lines persist within families, and the benefit or disadvantage, real or not, inform the conversation. When asked about his personal stance, he refuses to commit. “All is the same,” he declares. His outlook is not uncommon; but does it speak to a larger issue in new and young registered voters?

It is the view of supervisor of elections Sylvia Findlay that many young voters register mainly for the use of identification in other ventures, rather than an explicit interest in voting or the political process itself. With 716 new voters registered in the first quarter of 2015 alone, swaying those voters apathetic to the political process is of greater importance, especially in an election populace whose staunch bases have long dictated the outcomes of the campaign.

With an overall 37,790 voters within the 18-35 demographic, those votes already secured by generational edict and party led youth outreach are now a recognized part of the campaign. The youth presence on both ends of the major political party divide is notable, though unsung. How much greater would it be if our young friend, and those like him, were so convinced to participate in the democratic process? Figures on eventual voter turnout in past elections in this demographic were not available to SEARCHLIGHT, but if these sentiments are to be believed, what of the unaccounted and un-interested? Both parties have opportunities to educate and connect with these voters; whether the challenge is met, or not, will be seen only after the next figures are tallied.

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