Apathetic, apolitical or angry: high youth abstention tipped for general election

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Published On : Fri, Dec 13th, 2013

60 percent of young voters stayed away from polls in the first round — and experts agree with study that forecasts no improvement in youth abstention come Sunday’s election.

High abstention is expected from young voters in Sunday’s final round of the presidential elections. Photo by Vanya_Fotos / Flickr

High abstention is expected from young voters in Sunday’s final round of the presidential elections. Photo by Vanya_Fotos / Flickr

Within the record record abstention rate for November’s first round vote, youth turnout was ten points lower than the average, and a study shows that this trend is expected to extend to Sunday’s decisive presidential elections.

On Sunday, from an original record nine candidates, voters will chose between left-leaning Nueva Mayoría pact candidate Michelle Bachelet and right-leaning Alianza coalition candidate Evelyn Matthei.

According to Chile’s Electoral Service (Servel), less than 50 percent of voters went to the ballot box in the first round of the elections Nov. 17. Young voters however had an above average abstention rate, with 60 percent of 18 to 34-year-olds  staying at home on election day, according to Radio Universidad de Chile.

As the final round of the presidential election approaches, a study published by ASIA Marketing on Chileans between the age of 18 and 34 forecasts similar results in terms of youth’s voter turnout.

Roberto Durán, political science professor at Universidad Católica, told The Santiago Times that he did not expect a tremendous change in voter turnout on Sunday.

Durán asserts that because Bachelet has little chance of losing on Sunday, young voters lack the incentive to go vote, and pointed to disenchantment with the political processes as a reason for the youth’s low voter turnout. He believes that low voter turnout among young adults “is a critique of the political class.”

Melissa Sepúlveda, newly elected president of Universidad de Chile’s student federation (FECh), held a similar sentiment.

“More than the political processes, Chileans are disillusioned by the manner of conducting politics, established since the return to democracy,” she told The Santiago Times. “The Chilean political and economic model does not fulfill what the majority of Chilean people need.”

According to ASIA Marketing’s study, the most common reason given by young adults to explain their lack of political participation is that they “do not believe in politics, the politicians, the parties,” with 33 percent of a total of 5,000 people participating in the study agreeing.

Lack of interest in politics and not feeling represented were the other two main reasons given to explain low participation of younger generations in political processes — respectively with 21 and 28 percent of the participants agreeing.

Sepúlveda claims that this distrust in the established political institutions is made clear by the low voter turnout, as well as by the numerous social demonstrations that have rocked the country in recent years — from student protests, to nation-wide strikes in diverse public sectors.

“The high percentage of abstention without a doubt is the great winner of the presidential elections,” Sepúlveda told The Santiago Times. “We know that there is a weakness of the institutionality and of its capacity to respond to the demands of the social movement, and from this perspective, not only the abstention rate in the elections, but also the large number of social mobilizations that have been taking place in the past few years, since 2006, highlights this problem.”

While the two final contenders of the presidential race have tried to gain the votes of those who did not go to the ballot box in the first round and of those who voted for one of the seven other candidates, one of the main questions to be answered in Sunday’s election will be the abstention rate among the young.

Sepúlveda told The Santiago Times she will not cast her vote on Sunday.

“Neither myself, nor the FECh, nor anyone else calls for abstention, but rather we call for 2014 to be a year of [social] mobilization, struggle and organization, regardless of the result of the elections this Sunday,” she said.

By Clémence Douchez-Lortet (clemmie@santiagotimes.cl)
Audio by Sandra Segall (sandra@santiagotimes.cl)
Copyright 2013 — The Santiago Times

About the Author

Clemence Douchez-Lortet
Clemence Douchez-Lortet
Originally from Paris, Clemmie is a graduate from the University of York , where she studied Political Science and International Relations. Contact her on clemmie@santiagotimes.cl.