Do young Australians care about populist politics?
With the growing presence of the millennial vote in #Brexit, the election of Donald Trump, and the spread of populist political parties across Europe, people are looking to Australia to see if the nation’s future generations will continue the trend.
Rising from economic struggles and the global displacement of people with a growing refugee crisis, a brand of populism has emerged. While coverage has mainly centred on Brexit and Trump, the far-right are growing throughout the West; Marine Le Pen’s National Front is making gains in France, the Party for Freedom gained traction in Netherlands (but were defeated this month), the Austrian Freedom Party nearly gained power in Austria, and Australia seems to be no stranger with the revival of the One Nation Party, echoing similar sentiments.
Interestingly, younger voters have generally moved against this trend: in Britain, approximately 75% of young voters wanted stay in the EU, and Hillary Clinton won the millennial vote in the 2016 US Presidential Election.
Are young Australians apathetic towards what’s going on at home, or do they see less reason to be concerned with local populism?
In Australia’s federal election, while 86.7% of 18-24 year-olds participated, young people formed over a quarter of unenrolled voters. With these figures, some sceptics believe that the politically active bases of young Australians are more concerned with international affairs than domestic politics. These claims have some foundation: rallies and petitions were organised in Australia university groups against Trump’s rhetoric, and there was a strong youth presence at the Women’s March in January.
On social media, there are increasingly vocal critics European immigration policy or the latest Washington mishap, often gaining more traction than comments on domestic Australian politics.
"Why are young Australians more concerned about Donald Trump and Nigel Farage than with their own political leaders? "
19-year-old youth activist Danielle Santos recently organised the NSW State Conference for UN Youth Australia, gathering hundreds of high school students across the state to discuss multiculturalism. As an activist, Santos is concerned, but not surprised, about the global rise of far-right politics.
“This came out of an inability for all sides of politics to imagine the 'other' as human and now this is a reality we've got to live with,” Santos told The Point Magazine.
So why are young Australians more concerned about Donald Trump and Nigel Farage than with their own political leaders? Santos think it is “much easier for us to criticise countries like us rather than our own, but the symbolism of both Trump’s presidency and Brexit affront our understanding of who we are as an international community.”
Santos encourages young Australians to get involved.
“The Women's March following Trump’s inauguration was inspiring because it told me that people were going to fight. The number of Australians who have opened their homes to refugees when our government turns their boats back reminds me that, among all this heartbreak, it'll be okay because people will continue to be kind despite politics.”
Young people are concerned and fighting back with what they can. While a number of youth votes were missing in the last Australian election, the participation of 18 year olds alone has risen from 50% to over 70% in 2016, a figure expected to grow with a new political culture emerging.
2016 saw the explosion of political ‘memes’, where pages for the ALP, LNP, and Greens have thousands of likes and enable hundreds of comments and shares each day. On Twitter, younger voters have found a base to express their concerns, with younger voices taking up a fair share of Australian politics Twitter trends.
Activism also seems to be returning to its roots, with organisations establishing campaigns and bottom-up initiatives to fight against racism in communities.
Timothy LoSurdo, from Melbourne, recently crowdfunded over $20,000 for a start-up called ‘Democracy In Colour’. The non-profit movement, run by people of mixed cultural backgrounds, seeks to run long-term campaigns targeting institutional racism through community-based initiatives for marginalised voices.
Anti-racism charity All Together Now, in partnership with Youth Action NSW, is searching for young ambassadors in Western Sydney to build cohesion in their communities by targeting hate speech and far-right extremist rhetoric.
Talking about her experience running a conference on multiculturalism, Santos said, “Over the course of a single dinner, I floated between tables of students discussing climate change to fiscal policy and to the impact of memes on our understanding of art. I can say that these students were certainly reflective of what most Australian youth think matters. We care about how we can make the world better than it was yesterday.”
Australian youth attitudes on populist politics