Among young Europeans, Hungarians are the most hesitant about whether to vote or not

Young people in all EU countries were asked by a recently published Eurobarometer survey whether they would vote in the upcoming European Parliament elections and what other ways - if in any - they would participate in political and social life. On a European level the results are encouraging, for Hungary, not as much.

Published On: May 23rd, 2024

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Among all young EU voters, Hungarians have the highest number of young people saying that they do not know or have not yet decided whether to vote in the upcoming European Parliament elections. Likewise, the proportion of those who are sure to vote is also significantly lower than the European average – shows a recently published Eurobarometer survey.

However the survey, focusing on voters aged between 15 and 30 years old, concludes that among all EU countries the turnout among young voters still exceeds the overall turnout in the EP elections, so the vote of young people will definitely matter in the next June elections.

64% of young Europeans intend to vote and, interestingly, the record is held by Romania, where 78% of young citizens plan to go to the polls. Romania’s leading position in the list may come as a surprise at first glance, but it is worth noting that the country is in an election year: in addition to the EP vote, local and national elections have also been called for 2024. To raise the stakes, renowned EU politicians travelled to Bucharest: Ursula von der Leyen and the European People’s Party held an event to seal her nomination for a second term as Commission President, and Charles Michel, President of the European Council, also campaigned in the Romanian capital too. The European Socialists and Democrats also held an event in Romania, attended German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and the party’s lead candidate Nicolas Schmit.

But back to Hungary, where only 51% of young people said they plan to vote in the upcoming EP elections. Not a very rosy situation, as Hungary is fourth from last among EU member states, although 10 percentage points above last-place Luxembourg (where only 41% of young people are planning to vote). However, Hungary has the highest proportion of young people (24%) who either do not know or have still not decided whether they will cast their ballot or not. What is interesting, though, is that a 51% turnout alone would be higher than the overall turnout in any European Parliament election so far. The turnout in the 2019 EP elections was the highest ever in Hungary, but still only 43.5% voted. Looking at the poll, it is very likely that in 2024 proportionally more young people will vote than older voters.

Why do young voters matter?

Young people’s voting and willingness to vote pose a decades-long dilemma for policymakers, analysts, and researchers. Although this is not reflected in the current Eurobarometer survey, there is a general belief that young people are less interested in politics than older people, less likely to vote and participate in political activity, and generally less interested in political events. Many of the young people surveyed will become first-time voters in this year’s European, general or local elections.

If a young person does not vote and thus does not represent his or her position, it is already a problem in itself. Young people understandably care about different issues than older people: from a rational point of view, if young people do not vote in sufficient proportions, parties that would represent issues that are important to them will not be competitive on the political spectrum, and larger parties will have less chance to put issues important to young people on their agenda. This is a vicious circle where parties do not see potential in young voters, therefore they do not represent the issues that are important to them, so young people see even less point in voting.

From the Hungarian point of view of the survey, there seems to be no huge gap between issues that are more important to young people and society in general. Although equality and tolerance are important to many young people, the most popular issues still relate to traditional economic and political problems, which are not particularly different from the preferences of older generations. Among the expectations related to the EU, young Hungarians considered defence and foreign policy tasks and the elimination of economic and social inequalities to be the most important, while the protection of human rights and fundamental democratic values came only in third place.

When young people were asked what issues they were trying to make a difference on, 35% said they signed a petition in the past year and taken action in the area of human rights and well-being issues. However, the proportion of those caring about climate change (22%) and equal rights for women, minorities and LGBTQ people (21%) is almost 10% lower than the EU average.

Are they nodding alone?

Compared to the rest of the EU, very few young Hungarians participate in organised leisure activities, such as sports, cultural or charity organisations. Most belong to sports clubs (22%), but even this is 11% less than the European average. Why is this important? Community activities, even if non-political, contribute greatly to political knowledge and participation. The idea became popular around the turn of the millennium when American political scientist Robert Putnam linked changes in US political culture to declining membership of various clubs. In essence, if people (reflecting on the title of the book) go bowling alone, so to speak, i.e. do not interact with a wider group in various activities, they are less likely to be informed, conscious, and active voters. This can also apply to young people: more active participation in community life and simply talking to people about different topics can improve their relationship with politics.

However, Putnam’s argument is now a bit out of date, as there are other ways for people to exchange ideas besides clubs, and one of the most important new developments is social media. 31% of young Hungarians believe that political expression on social media is the most effective way to represent their opinions. According to young Hungarians, publishing posts and comments, using hashtags or changing their thematic profile picture is even more effective than voting, with 28% saying voting is an effective tool for expressing their opinions. Party and movement membership is well below that, with only 21% saying joining a political organisation has an impact. In comparison, young Hungarians are quite pessimistic about organised politics, with 38% of young people in Europe saying that voting is a good tool for expressing their opinions, but they are somewhat ahead of social media (32%).

In summary, compared to Europe, young Hungarians are somewhat more pessimistic, uncertain, and inactive. However, the situation is not terrible in the domestic context, young people are not completely excluded from politics, and they can participate even at a slightly higher rate than older people. What is important to note from this survey is that although young people’s political behaviour differs from that of their parents and they consider different ways of participating, this does not mean that they do not engage in politics or do not have opinions. In the European Parliament elections, parties may want to target young voters, as it looks like many young constituents will vote in June.

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