By Martin Chevreau
While watching Barack Obama converse with David Letterman on Netflix, I was intrigued to find them constantly switching from personal conversations to conversations about politics. Obama said that “one of the biggest challenges we have to our democracy is the degree to which we don’t share a common baseline of facts”, specifying that, “If you watch Fox News, you are living on a different planet than if you, you know, listen to NPR [National Public Radio]”. This really hit home because the truth is, many do not know where to stand on certain issues (including the writer of this article). It can be easy to be discouraged by the lack of understanding due to pervasive political jargon, and by the extent of problems our world faces today. As a response to this, here is a slightly informal opinion article, about opinion articles (if you will), designed to encourage or urge the reader to get involved in politics and form opinions about its various topics.
Two advantages of forming an opinion at a young age will be considered in this article: presenting informed opinion to counter wrongful statements, and consequently reversing the youth voting crisis. Both should have as a goal to destigmatise politics in our generation.
To comment on the former point, despite the “youthquake”, described by the Oxford Dictionary as the political awakening among millennial voters, younger voters are still less likely to vote than older voters are. So how should we loosen this “sticky” voting? How do we get younger people involved?
The Labour Party managed it last year by directing their manifesto at young people, but this wasn’t necessarily the best solution. For example, though their want to abolish university tuition fees got the attention of many students, it was unclear how they could afford paying for a £9.5bn policy plan. This is when forming opinions becomes important.
Considering the line graph above; even though 20-45 year olds’ interest in politics has increased over time, there’s still a significant percentage of the youngest potential voters not exercising this fundamental right- one which could help their generation’s voice to be more effectively heard.
Another prime example would be the increase in votes between the 1st and 2nd rounds of the 2002 French elections. It took the “Front National”, France’s extreme right-wing populist party to the second round, for their opposition (former president Jacques Chirac) to obtain 350% more votes than he did in the first round. Over two thirds of those votes were said to be aimed at preventing the Front National from winning the presidential race, rather than votes in support of Chirac. The recurring theme here is that people seem to only turn up to the ballot when faced with a dangerous outcome, or have a strong conviction. Building an opinion in order to make an informed vote for elections or major referendums could change our generation’s lives for the better.
Beyond the electoral level, our support or disapproval of a leader can also go a long way in changing the way we do politics in liberal democracies. For example, despite their apparent friendship, Emmanuel Macron’s disapproval of Donald Trump’s threat to pull out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action – an international agreement to delay Iran’s capacity to build nuclear weapons, in exchange for reduced sanctions – could perhaps influence Trump and his new secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, to reconsider participation in the agreement. Angela Merkel is also set to reiterate Macron’s point in her upcoming visit to the US. It can be considered our duty to support a side; our politicians, an ensemble of critiques (in the form of opinion articles), or most importantly, an informed general public could perhaps change the way we do politics. Whether Trump changes his mind or not is a whole other matter.
Now for the latter point of this article; how do we learn about all these events both local and international? Going back to Obama’s point, this all depends on who you listen to. To reach university, the majority of students have to go through years of education, shaping our thoughts through the content of our textbooks. On top of that; we have the television, news, and now more than ever, social media. Personally, studying politics and trying to write articles highlighted how little I knew about politics. Donald Trump this, Kim-Jong Un that, Brexit, the recent airstrikes in Syria; it all can get very confusing very quickly. Whether we split the world’s issues into domestic, foreign, economic, social, electoral or security issues, there will always be complications that are hard to follow without minimal research into the field.
The complication in world politics, that make it a controversial subject, is finding a compromise to these issues. Are Donald Trump’s politics correct? Is the rise of extreme right parties in Europe justified? People act and vote on what they think is right, yet clearly not every decision makes everyone happy and is an optimal decision for society. For example, economists try to make efficient use of their resources so as satisfy the majority of people, yet not everyone benefits from it- as seen as a result of the neo-liberal movement of the seventies in third-world countries. Finding a compromise that benefits diverse nations and institutions is not easy. Our generation does not necessarily have to become sufficiently informed to find a compromise for all those issues at once, but more awareness could go a long way so as to avoid reproducing the mistakes of the past and achieving what we really want for the next generation.
There is very rarely a right or wrong answer to political opinion. If there is, chances are that we find out too late anyways. It’s more important, thus, to make the effort to form a sufficiently informed opinion and have the conviction and knowledge to defend it. In other words, opinions should be justified. As many have said since the enlightenment, knowledge is power. The more we read, the more we talk about relevant issues, the more we experience, the more knowledge we have to base our opinions on. This does not necessarily mean one’s opinion becomes more accurate over time, or that all sources define our opinions, but embracing this cluster of knowledge is better than shutting off all contrasting views.
To summarise, our generation could be better represented through greater involvement in politics on our part, not only at the electoral level, but also through our support of certain causes or a particular leader. Our voices count, and the accumulation of well-formed opinion not only goes on to form a quality issue of Incite, but will also help sculpt the world of tomorrow.
Is it not easy to conclude an article about not having an opinion, so instead of doing that, why don’t we add to the cluster of opinions that Incite represents, and keep the conversation going online and through future issues? We’re counting on you!