Talk show: Why are young people steering clear of politics?

"UV faktor". Source: ERR

Young people do not feel they can change things in politics and prefer to contribute to society in NGOs and other organizations, young guests of the "UV faktor" talk show found on Tuesday.

Four guests, all under 25 years of age, talked about why people their age do not want to venture into politics: Estonian Greens co-chair Johanna Maria Tõugu, esseist and mathematician Mikael Raihhelgauz, Principal of the Järva-Jaani High School Annela Tammiste and businessman Markus Meresma.

Tõugu said that she decided in favor of politics because of ideological convictions and current politicians not doing enough in the field [of environmentalism]. Her experience suggests young people are afraid of public attention that comes with the profession. "Take it easy. Participating in democracy and belonging to a political party is completely normal civic duty," Tõugu told young viewers.

The current composition of the Riigikogu has 11 people under the age of 40 and just one under the age of 30. MPs who have seen 65 or more winters number 22.

Mikael Raihhelgauz said that the parliament having fewer young people than old is not necessarily a problem. He finds that a 20-year-old should not be elected to the Riigikogu if they do not have an established worldview they want to represent.

"I have been offered the chance to join a party. But I do not have [enough] experience, I have not held down a real job so to speak, and it does not seem like the right time to go into politics. It takes time to shape a vision. Of course, there are those who already have a worldview, while young people with a strong vision tend to be few and fat between. That actually applies to people in all age groups, Raihhelgauz added.

Tõugu and Meresma believe it is a problem that the Riigikogu has few young people. The former remarked that older politicians tend to concentrate on problems that concern their generation, which might not be appealing to young people.

"I also rather see it as a problem that there are relatively more older than younger people in the Riigikogu. Because it creates a kind of vicious circle where young people feel their interests are not represented, which works to repel them from politics and voting," Meresma added.

Annela Tammiste said that there are likely many reasons young people are reluctant to pursue politics, one of which is younger people finding their place in NGOs or other types of organizations first, before plotting a course for politics only once they become experts in their fields.

Raihhelgauz agreed and pointed to a survey from six years ago that found young people less active in political parties compared to their older peers and more active in NGOs and the voluntary scene in general. Young people are also quicker to share political topics on social media.

Tammiste suggested young people pay mind to their mental health. "They do not rush headlong into politics because they know the kind of games it entails," she said. "Major arguments and constant conflict. While we cannot see into backrooms, that is the impression I'm left with and what I base my decisions on."

Tõugu agreed that the Riigikogu does not come off as a healthy work environment. "I wish to join the Riigikogu to make it better," she added.

Estonia's youngest current MP Ruuben Kaalep (EKRE) has decided not to run in the March elections. He said that the same person should not run for parliament whenever possible. "I believe that is something that separates mission-based politics. We have a plethora of career politicians, people who have built their entire lives on being MPs and a corresponding image and miss out on that extra something that could expand their self-perception and understanding of our state, culture etc. if you feel politics is the only way to fulfill your mission in life," Kaalep said.

He admitted that after making the parliament at 25, he had much to prove to more experienced politicians.

In terms of why young people are steering clear of politics, Kaalep suggested that the Estonian people have been alienated from their representatives for a long time and young people do not feel able to make a difference. "The only trump card or reason for a young person to join the political fray that I see is a desire to fight for one's principles, whether they are the survival of the Estonian people and culture, environmental issues, security policy etc."

Tõugu agreed. "It is very difficult to bring young people into party politics. How could that change unless we make it [politics] better ourselves. I can see that young people want to pursue value-based initiatives, while they can also do so in other organizations, by hitting the like button under memes etc. That's also politics, even though it's not party politics."

Meresma said that social topics should see more comprehensive coverage in Estonian schools, with students given more freedom in shaping their interests. The businessman believes this could motivate more young people to take an interest in politics.

At the recent local government council elections, 43 percent of 16-17-year-olds, 35 percent of 18-24-year-olds and 44 percent of 25-34-year-olds voted for a lower turnout than in older age groups. The guests found that low turnout is caused by campaigns concentrating on topics that do not matter to younger people.

"Younger people care about the environment, higher education and education in general. Are we talking about them enough to involve them?" Tammiste asked, adding that topics the current Riigikogu has tackled, such as the pension reform, Soviet monuments, same sex partnership referendum and family benefits, have hardly been captivating for young voters.

But Raihhelgauz added that security and rapid inflation matter to people in all age groups. Tõugu suggested that while people can take an interest in various topics, their motivation when voting could be quite different.

Meresma remarked that another reason for low voter turnout could be that young people are disappointed after voting for a candidate and finding that it changed nothing.


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Editor: Merili Nael, Marcus Turovski

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