The lack of interest in the forthcoming presidential elections in Cyprus is noteworthy. Contrary to previous elections, I don’t see people passionate about any of the three candidates (perfectly understandable) and I don’t hear heated political arguments for or against either of them.
I reckon the abstention rate will be high. This, of course, is not to say that Cyprus is in any way special. After all, voters are disenchanted with formal politics everywhere and in particular where there are high levels of nepotism fueling distrust towards the political system as a whole.
As a result, people who generally want little to do with formal politics often engage in alternative political action or end up supporting unorthodox (read: populist or radical) candidates. Others are just apathetic.
But to assume that people who do not vote just don’t care about politics, or that everyone who votes for populist or extreme candidates are misguided/idiots (though some [many?] inevitably are), is plain wrong, albeit convenient for politicians who benefit from the perpetuation of the status quo.
Most targeted by the sweeping generalization that all who do not vote are apathetic and satisfied with others deciding for them, are young people whose turnout rate is the lowest among all groups in the society. I don’t know how often people who make these assertions talk to young people but evidence is not on their side.
Research in the UK showed that older people have a much more restrictive understanding of what constitutes politics, typically revolving around political parties and elections. Anything beyond formal politics does not count as political engagement in their book.
Younger people, on the other hand, contrary to their portrayal as apathetic and indifferent, were found to be politically active in pressure groups and around individual issues, with their activism often transcending traditional boundaries such as national borders.
Long story short, the next time you have the urge to accuse young people of apathy and indifference, maybe give it a couple of minutes’ thought and, dare say, read something about it before you embark on the internet to enlighten us with your patronizing generalizations. This goes especially to journalists.