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How to increase young people's engagement with politics

Jack Sargeant MS
June 19, 2024

When I was first elected at 23, I was comfortably the youngest member of the Senedd. It was not just my age but my employment background that made me stand out, both from other elected members and also from other young people involved in politics. I was an engineer who had completed an apprenticeship and earned a degree through my employer. Most young people I met in politics either worked in politics or in a related field and had pursued a related degree. Many had grown up in student politics. There is nothing wrong with this, and many have gone on to successfully advocate for important changes, but it means politics can have quite a narrow perspective when it comes to engaging young people.

What it can mean is that we tend to overestimate the importance of certain methods of engagement. Many politically active young people are extremely active on a certain part of X (formerly Twitter); they can be highly factional in their comments and focused on issues taken up by established campaigns with which they often have significant engagement.

What it can mean is that we tend to overestimate the importance of certain methods of engagement. Quote

I always measure this against the interests of my mates in Deeside, the manufacturing community in northeast Wales that I represent in the Senedd. They are the people I went to school with, and while interested in things becoming better, are not engaged in political X. This means that terms of insult thrown around on X, like ‘centrist,’ ‘far-left,’ ‘Liz Truss supporter,’ ‘Brexiter,’ or ‘remainer,’ are completely lost on them, as they are on most young people. This could seem odd to those of us who occupy this space, because most turned 20 in 2014, and in this period, the social media rows using these terms have raged.

Most young people, however, do get their news from social media, but Instagram and TikTok are more popular. They don’t belong to a faction, so a good idea that is presented well to them is exactly that—a good idea. I remember floating the idea of a four-day week on my Instagram and being a bit blown away by the number of engagements outside of the normal politico bubble. 

There are, of course, two ways you can pique someone’s interest in politics: you can inspire with ideas for change, or you can scare them with threats of the unknown. Both work, and if they are presented well, both could lend themselves to this format. There is anecdotal evidence that the growth in support amongst young people on the continent for far-right ideas is being driven by social media platforms with effective messaging promoted as ‘common sense’. Similarly, a few of my friends have mentioned Reform’s output on TikTok in the last week or so. If we are to counter this, we need to understand it, and that means recognising young people’s fears outside of the political bubble.

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Jack Sargeant is the Welsh Labour Member of the Senedd for Alyn and Deeside. Jack is the current Chair of Senedd Petitions Committee and is a passionate advocate for Welsh manufacturing and engineering, as well as social housing.

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