PollsApart: Key Takeaways on Youth Engagement, Democracy, and Impactful Storytelling

April 3, 2024


Last year, we launched ‘Ideas with Purpose’, a series of live events in our London office. These events are designed to bring people from different backgrounds and disciplines together around a series of provocative discussion topics. These closed-door discussions encourage genuine, open interrogations of the things that we are all thinking about, both in our work, and also in how we show up on different issue areas and how to manage the quick progress of technology in society, democracy, and culture.

Young people have the least faith in democracy of all demographics according to a recent report from the Open Society Foundation. In the last general election in the UK (2019), there was a 47% youth turnout – the lowest of all demographics. 2024 is the biggest election yearglobally in history, with over 50% of the world’s population (including, Russia, UK and USA) participating in elections. Against this backdrop, our recent event “Polls Apart: Do Young People Value Democracy?” brought together young individuals from diverse backgrounds and a range of perspectives to explore the crucial question of how to meaningfully engage youth in the democratic process.

The evening was hosted and moderated by our very own Isobel Bruce, Global Director of Campaigns, and attended by over 50 participants from the worlds of government, creativity and campaigning. Held on 20th March, this thought-provoking discussion brought together young individuals, in collaboration with Ghino Parker, Director of SEEN @ Barnardo’s, and Labour Councillor, Mete Coban, CEO of My Life My Say.

Our young panelists, ranging from 13 to 22 years old, were Leonita Metaj, Dawid Waheed and Sara Mesa from SEEN, and Lily Mott and Abdirahman Ahmed from My Life My Say.

Here are some key takeaways from the event: 

  1. Exploring youth disengagement in democracy

Participants delved into the barriers to entry that young people face when it comes to engaging with democracy, including societal, educational, and financial hurdles. One key issue that emerged was the lack of context and framing around democracy. Young people are expected to vote at 18 without any prior introduction to what that means or what they are voting for. Ghino Parker commented on the lack of early participation within society, saying “at no point do we ask them (young people) what they think….and then we expect them to drop off a cliff and go and vote for a political party”

Brexit was highlighted as a tipping point for many young people, who felt completely disenfranchised by the decision as they weren’t allowed to vote but very keenly feel the impact of this decision. This experience has contributed to a sense of disillusionment with the democratic process.

Importantly, participants emphasised that youth need to be consulted at every stage in the conversation, and to be paid fairly for that consultation – their expert opinions are valuable.

  1. Youth issues are everyone’s issues.

From the climate crisis to financial literacy, the concerns that matter most to young people transcend traditional political silos. To effectively engage them, we need to recognise that these are not niche “youth issues” but societal challenges that require all of us to work together.

Every issue that matters to anyone is an issue that matters to young people. Financial literacy emerged as a huge concern, with participants like Abdirahman talking about his work educating young people on finances, and Lily discussing how young people are worried about pensions and an ageing population.

  1. Collaboration trumps partisanship.

Many young people are turned off by the divisiveness of party politics. They want to see leaders putting aside their differences and collaborating on solutions to the problems that affect their lives. As Abdirahman put it, “I know now that I can be involved in my own politics and my own change making and not care about Labour and Conservative. Not a divisive conversation of like, oh, so what, who are you gonna go for? No, no, no. We can impact our community. We can actually have active change.”

  1. Issue-based campaigning resonates more than party allegiance.

Young people are increasingly disinterested in aligning themselves with political parties. Lily Mott commented that “the US political system right now is the perfect example of the danger of polarisation”. On a similar thread, Abdiraham Ahmed, noted, “I know now that I can be involved in my own politics and my own change making and not care about Labour and Conservative”  Instead, they are passionate about taking action on the issues they care about, from climate change to social justice. Engaging them requires focusing on these substantive concerns rather than partisan labels.

Climate change and the state of the oceans were also highlighted as something that is a genuine worry, and there’s a sense that there are no tangible solutions to engage with. There was a general consensus that more bipartisan action is needed, as young people do not identify with the politics of other generations. They see the main political parties as largely the same, and rather than arguing about identity politics, they want to see collaboration around action.

  1. Go where the young people are. 

If we want to reach young audiences, we need to meet them on the platforms where they’re already sharing their stories and activism. Participants expressed frustration with organisations still suggesting Facebook in their communications strategies, “We don’t use Facebook. I”ve never had to look at it!”, said Leonita . Instagram, TikTok, and LinkedIn were identified as key spaces where young people are engaging with issues and making their voices heard.

  1. There is much to be hopeful for!

Despite the challenges, there were notes of optimism throughout the discussion. Participants expressed excitement about being invited to share their perspectives in more spaces and the increased awareness of the importance of youth consultation. 

They also highlighted how young people know how to disagree without it becoming emotional, and noted that the generation below them are even more thoughtful in their approach to making space for difficult discussions.

  1. Looking forward

As we look towards the upcoming elections, initiatives like MyLifeMySay’s “Give An X”  campaign, which aims to boost youth turnout numbers in the UK, will be crucial in engaging young people in the democratic process.

The insights from this invigorating Ideas With Purpose discussion make clear that we must commit to meaningfully engaging young people – not as a monolithic bloc, but as individuals with unique experiences, concerns, and aspirations. By breaking down barriers to entry, focusing on the issues that matter to them, and amplifying their voices, we can empower a rising generation of changemakers to shape a more just and inclusive future for us all.

Join us

Our next ‘Ideas with Purpose’ event will take place in May. If you’d like to join us or collaborate on another event with our London team, email us here at ideaswithpurpose@purpose.com. We can’t wait to continue exploring the ideas that matter the most with our community.


Time Magazine | A Make-or-Break Year for Democracy Worldwide

Open Society Foundation | Open Society Barometer: Can Democracy Deliver?

British Election Study | Age and voting behaviour at the 2019 General Election

We are seen | A Barnardo’s initiative to build a core foundation of knowledge, a network of people and advocacy for those with authentic experience

My Life My Say | A youth-led, non-partisan movement on a mission to encourage young people to participate in democracy, and get every single young person voting 

Urban Rise | Empowering communities with the tools and knowledge to achieve financial independence and thrive in today’s economy.

Be the change Podcast by Lily Mot | Amplifying the voices of young change makers around the world


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