Waikato survey reveals disconnect between young people and council politics

A snapshot of key findings from the report. Design: Kaknika Som Ek

A snapshot of key findings from the report. Design: Kaknika Som Ek

Stuff | Aaron Leaman | August 23, 2019

Two in five Waikato young people don't know how to cast a vote in the upcoming local body elections, and eight out of 10 feel disconnected from their council.

The statistics are revealed in a survey of 283 young people aged 15-35 by Waikato-based youth charity Seed Waikato.

Survey results also show almost a third of respondents don't know local body elections are happening this year.

The findings add weight to the argument schools should be required to teach civic education, with the Government expected to make an announcement in the coming weeks. 

Seed Waikato staffer Rinu Vimal said it's a concern so many people young people feel disconnected from local government.

Information explaining what councils do, and the importance of voting, isn't reaching enough young people.

"The information is all there but we're not communicating that information in a way that young people understand," Vimal said.

Candidate events are typically formal events and are attended by older people. Younger people would be more inclined to attend if these events were packaged in a fun way, Vimal said.

The idea of teaching civic education to students has merit and is worth further research, he said.

Hamilton City Council uses a First Past the Post voting system.

In a statement, Education Minister Chris Hipkins said the Government wants more civic education delivered in schools and will make an announcement on this in the coming weeks.

"Whether this forms part of the curriculum is for each school community to decide," Hipkins said.

"But on top of this we are working on a school leavers' toolkit that will provide resources for students and teachers for students to gain practical skills and knowledge on issues such as civic education and personal financial management."

National's education spokesperson, Nikki Kaye, said most people she speaks to believe schools should do more around civic education but the question is how should that be done.

Kaye said Parliament's education workforce select committee will soon debate a petition by the New Zealand History Teachers' Association (NZHTA) calling for the "coherent" teaching of New Zealand history to be made compulsory in schools.

"I think we're going to have an opportunity to have a discussion in the next few months about the wider issue around civics," Kaye said.

"I think a lot of people have a view that we need to strengthen civics and I think there's the argument we've got to invest more resources.

"It's a bit of a no-brainer that we need young people to be exercising their right to vote and some of that is an understanding, but some of that is them feeling motivated and thinking their voice will make a difference."