Being 18 and voting for the first time

Alex Day is one of the 2023/2024 Methodist Church Youth Reps and will be voting for the first time in the upcoming General Election. They share their thoughts on being a first-time voter and why it is important to share their voice. Alex Day offers their personal thoughts on being a first-time voter.

02 July 2024

When I am out and about engaging in politics and democracy, whether that's knocking on doors or chatting to my classmates in college, one of the main debates that I end up interacting with is about young people and their lack of presence in voting statistics: compared to all other age groups, 18-24-year-olds are the least likely to vote (just above 50% in 2019). What I want to discuss is some of the reasons why this is, how we may want to fix it, and how more experienced people can successfully interact with younger people to invite them into the UK’s political environment. I also want to briefly look at the role our churches have to make sure we are present in politics and to ensure poverty, justice and kindness are at the forefront of how we interact with it.

A bit of background on myself. My dad is a local councillor, and my mum is a Methodist minister. I have been involved with grassroots politics for about a year, whilst being very involved at college with the politics department. I have debated and discussed with people from all different backgrounds and opinions, and I feel that it is important that everyone, especially young people, can participate in shaping the country.

There are a lot of important contributing factors that have led to the reduced turnout of young people at general elections, but I want to specifically focus on two: the lack of younger people in positions of political power, and the lack of focus that politics seems to place on the future. For instance, in 2019, the average age for MPs was 51 and only 3% of MPs were under the age of 30, a number that decreased with time. The lack of young people in Westminster causes a feedback loop: young people are not represented, so policies are not focused on young people, so not many young people want to stand as representatives, and therefore there are not many young people in Westminster. Moreover, policies such as the tripling of tuition fees after 2010 caused many young people to become less involved in politics, as they believed that the politicians did not care about young people.

That is some of the problem – but how do we go about fixing it? Firstly, there has to be a big push to get more young people registered to vote. With more young people registered to vote, it tells the political parties that they are willing and ready to go to the polling stations. Registering to vote takes 5 minutes and anyone aged 16 and over can do it (14 in Scotland and Wales). Secondly, people from all ages and walks of life should be represented. Consultations must be taken with young people to discuss and debate policies that relate to and affect them. Thirdly, political parties, locally and nationally, should, if they have not already, invest in the young people they already have and offer them opportunities to be involved with grassroots politics. This would provide young people with the step into elected offices such as councillors and MPs. All this would encourage young people to get more involved. Young people are willing to engage, we just need some support and the reassurance that what we are doing makes a difference; for this to happen, there has to be interaction from older generations to show that our vote counts, our voices are important, and our actions will cause people to listen.

Finally, what role does the Methodist Church have in politics? The ‘Love Pray Vote’ materials produced by the Joint Public Issues Team are a very good resource for any Christian interested in politics. Churches also have a role in helping people to get registered to vote and encouraging them to then go out and vote, through initiatives like Voter Registration Champions. The church should itself be involved in campaigning for change through marches, protests, pressure groups, building relationships with politicians, and debate. The church should be at the forefront of the climate movement, and advocacy for social justice and peace. I am proud of what the Methodist Church has done in looking to be a justice-seeking church. We should use our vote however we think will benefit as many people as possible. We love, because God loved first, and we have to ensure that our evangelism seeps through everything that we do, including politics.

So on 4 July, go out and vote. Make an informed decision – think, pray, then vote. If you feel strongly about an issue, raise it with your church – start a group, or a fundraiser, contact local councillors or MPs. Show that you do care and that you are willing to vote. Go on marches and protests. Make some noise! Young people should be seen, and the church should be seen, to be a force for good – however you may interpret it. But always spread God’s love to everyone you meet.