Getting youth interested in the game of politics, it’s not easy

Nov. 4, 2014

Tyler Murnaghan didn’t win a seat on Charlottetown city council, but he wouldn’t change a thing about the experience.
He lost to David MacDonald, who has represented Ward 6 since 2006, but he learned plenty, Murnaghan said.
“It’s given me real perspective on things. What matters and what doesn’t.”
Being younger than the other candidates by a few decades and having a much smaller budget was imposing, but the 20-year-old said he was up to the challenge.
At such a young age, winning didn’t really seem possible, but trying was the most important thing, he said.
“I didn’t really expect to win. Especially not at 20 and still being in school.”
Murnaghan plans to finish his course in business administration at Holland College.
“Focusing on graduation is my next step.”
But his political career isn’t over yet. Murnaghan plans on taking what he learned and weighing his options for the next municipal election, and maybe a provincial one.
Ronnie McPhee is the president of the Young Liberals of Prince Edward Island. More youth should get involved in politics so they can have a say, he said.
Few youth vote in elections at every level, which is a shame because if more youth voted, they would have a big influence, he said.
Ideally they’d vote for the Liberal party, but the important thing is having youth get out there and have their say, said McPhee.
“I couldn’t care less who you vote for, really, as long as you vote.”
He understands not everyone can be as enthusiastic about it as he is. He’s enrolled in political science at UPEI. But politics affect our daily lives, so every one should have some interest in it, McPhee said.
“Every youth should have some understanding of how their government works.”
Murnaghan’s political views may not align with his, but McPhee said he respects the 20-year-old for taking the leap and trying to make a difference in his city.
“It takes real guts to do that.”
Don Desserud is a political science professor at UPEI. The number of youth voters, aged 18 to 22, is low and only getting lower, he said.
“There’s a serious disengagement in youth voters.”
That’s a shame, as having young people at the polls brings newer perspectives to issues, he said.
The problem is the younger generation has no connection to the much older candidates, so they can’t relate to anyone in any party, he said.
Voting is one thing, but getting elected in politics is an even bigger issue. Being known on a local level is key, and young people haven’t had time to make themselves known in their community, Desserud said.
But there are exceptions. Brian Gallant, the premier of New Brunswick, came into office when he was only 32. That’s very young in the political world, Desserud said.
“You do see some remarkable cases.”
Peter McKenna is also a political science professor at UPEI.
Students are often the ones who make their issues the most vocal. Tuition, for instance, often spark protest. But students also have the lowest voter turnout, McKenna said. If they don’t vote, politicians won’t take their concerns seriously.
“If they showed up to vote, politicians would have no choice but to listen.”
The government has been scratching its head for years trying to think of a way to increase the youth vote, McKenna said.
He suggested a mandatory political class in junior high. That way, younger students would understand politics and lead many to become more interested.
“It’s important to educate them at an earlier age,” McKenna said.
It’s also up to public figures, like teachers, the media, and parents to stress getting out and voting. This way kids know how important it is to vote early on, he said.
“The youth have far more at stake than any other age group.”