Students and elections
Voting really matters
Hundreds of people were queuing in the cold to get to the Vinkhuizen community centre on October 15. Many of them were willing to wait for hours before they finally managed to make it inside. But, says Polish/Swiss industrial engineering and management student Michal Nowacki, it was worth it. ‘This was an election that no one could ignore, there was a lot at stake.’
The Polish election had one of the highest turnouts ever – 74 percent – as many Polonia, Polish people living abroad, cast their votes in a place like the community centre. ‘I feel like the worst thing you can do for a country’s politics is that when people leave, they stop caring about what happens there. When you are abroad, you represent a different, often more progressive, view’, Michal says.
He and his peers also felt their participation was necessary. ‘A lot of issues in politics are no longer seen as abstract ideas, but are directly impactful for people’s lives, like the abortion debate and LGBTQ rights.’
Indeed, agrees professor of political science Kees Aarts, it was widely perceived that there was a lot at stake. It was the continuation of the right-wing government versus a more pro-EU view, he says. ‘Turnout tends to go up when people think that there is something going on that will really impact the future of the country.’
When many students like Michal cast their vote, that also has an impact on the result of the elections. Voter turnout is usually associated with higher education and highly educated people tend to vote more progressively than others. ‘But it is all about tendencies, it is not a deterministic discipline’, he emphasises. ‘There are always examples of the opposite.’
Still, while other young people vote less than many other groups, university students tend to see it as a civic duty. ‘Voting is kind of an acquired habit, you don’t do it as self-evidently when you are eighteen as when you are fifty. You need to learn how to vote’, Aarts says.
Voting is kind of an acquired habit
That was certainly the case for 22-year-old Finnish psychology student Mirjam Nieminen, for whom voting was part of her upbringing. She has voted in all elections she was allowed to, since she was eighteen. When she was up to vote for the Finnish parliament, she even travelled all the way to The Hague. ‘It was a lot of fun to make a “voting trip”’, she says. ‘And as a bonus I got to see the sea.’
She has to vote, when given the chance, she feels. ‘It’s always been very important to me to have the chance to influence what happens in the country. It doesn’t matter what scale, whether it’s bigger or smaller, I feel like every election is just as significant.’
She wouldn’t be justified to complain about issues in society unless she votes, she says. ‘My vote is what enables me to participate in societal decision-making.’
That was also the reason why Slovak design student Diana Skácelová felt she had to vote last September. ‘There were two big parties against each other, one more populist and pro-Russian, and the other one which was more liberal, with more western ideals’, she explains.
Sadly enough for her though, her progressive student vote didn’t make enough of a difference. In Slovakia, the more conservative party won, which left Diana feeling ‘scared and disappointed’. ‘I would vote for the liberal party even if they couldn’t win, they represent my opinion and what I want out of a political party’, she says.
For the Dutch, stakes may not be as high as those for Michal and Diana. Still, to students of psychology Ids Bruinsma and Fabiënne Crone, it’s quite obvious they will be voting. ‘I find it exciting, to get to exercise democracy’, Fabiënne says.
I find it exciting, to get to exercise democracy
She puts a lot of effort into the process, trying to stay updated on the developments in the party programs, listening to podcasts, reading things online, and filling out the ‘stemwijzer’, which helps you choose who to vote for. ‘I don’t know who I will vote for yet’, she says, ‘but I definitely know who not to vote for.’
Ids too is still uncertain on who to vote for. ‘I think I’ll just have to vote for the least bad one. You always know what you really don’t want, so just vote for something that is at least okay.’
He would like a representative who is actually representative. Most parliament members are from The Hague and other big cities, he observes. ‘The ones from the Randstad will not know a lot about what is going on outside of it. I usually go for a person who is from somewhere smaller and more rural, because it is underrepresented.’
He thinks most of the students around him will vote too. However, he does feel voting has become a bit of a routine. ‘A lot of people don’t care that much. The government has fallen and resigned – voting feels a bit less special. This one lasted like a year, the other before that a year and they took half of that time to even form a parliament.’
The Dutch can be characterised as ‘traditional voters’
Aarts thinks that many have these feelings. ‘Voters are a bit confused about the development of the party system. Everybody sees there is an important change coming, but it is as of yet, very unclear what directions this will take, for example, what kinds of coalitions are they willing to form.’
Still, despite the looming confusion, people will come and do their civic duty. ‘The Dutch can be characterised as “traditional voters”’, he says. ‘In general the Netherlands has always been characterised by traditional voters who are relatively loyal, and there is a high turnout compared to other countries.’
On November 22, Ids and Fabiënne will do their civic duty. ´If you complain about the system, you have to also use your vote to try and change it’, Fabiënne says. ‘Everyone is affected by the government, so I think everyone needs to be involved.’
Ids agrees. ‘I know my vote is one of many, but if everyone thinks their vote doesn’t matter, that can have a massive impact.’