Research shows Youth Political Apathy is linked to Leaders’ Aloofness

Posted by on 3rd March 2017

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Mzalendo’s recent research on the civic attitudes and political opinions of Kenyans on Facebook revealed some very interesting facts. While assessing voter apathy was one of the research objectives, we got a glimpse into one of the possible reasons at least among the youth. Over 8300 people responded to the research and 70% of them said MPs are only interested in votes and not in their opinions. Could this mean the youth think it unwise to vote if their opinion is not considered? About 6 million Kenyans are on Facebook, most of them youth as our research confirmed.

Only a mere 3.4 % of the respondents were of the strong opinion that MPs cared about what they think. On the other hand, 65 % of the respondents said MPs do not care about them and 17.2 % remained non-committal. These findings may also explain the recent opinion polls that showed majority voters were planning to send home over half of the current MPs come August. When asked about MPs responsiveness to the public’s needs again the respondents re-emphasized that their leaders didn’t care.

Parliament business in the current session has been heavily affected as MPs miss House sittings to attend to their re-election campaign. Parliamentarians’ behavior supports the public’s claim of MPs aloofness as the latter are inaccessible until the campaign cycle when they’re trying to get re-elected. And still going by our findings the re-connection is not in the interest of the electorate but the candidate who is keener on being re-elected rather than understanding the public needs.

Our findings also revealed that 64.4% of the respondents were likely not to vote in the coming August 8th elections compared to only 10.9% who were very likely to vote. The youth are less interested in the voting exercise as they feel the aspirants have little interest in what they have to say.

Interestingly though, was the fact that despite the behavior of our elected leaders, majority youth (55 per cent) say they believe they can affect legislation, although not so much women. The confidence that they can affect legislation is only curtailed by the inaccessibility of the avenues in which they can have their input considered. In order to put this hope alive, Parliament may consider innovative approaches to find ways to include the youth online in the legislative process.

Our findings reveal a very politically informed youth with 86 per cent of the respondents knowing when the elections will be held, their constituencies and their MPs also. Additionally, 70% of the respondents are well informed about Parliament. Moreover, 47.2 % said that they had a good understanding of the political system.

Further, the research results revealed that 55% participants were confident of their capacity to influence legislation. This shows that the youth are craving for forums to give their valuable opinions on matters discussed in Parliament and the governance structure as a whole.

However we realized majority youth are not familiar with the oversight roles of Executive (President), the Legislature, and Governors. This may part be due to scarcity of easy to understand information on this front. This vindicates the accusation that Kenyan citizens are subjected to minimum, if any, civic education hence lack of participation in budgeting and vetting processes. Aspirants to elective offices and incumbents need to take note of these findings as they undertake their election campaigns and plan how to deliver on their future mandate.

The research shows exposing more youth to and other forums with important political information about the country, helps increase their knowledge and improves the quality of their engagement with government and elected leaders. The findings point to a more detached and less informed women, so there’s a need to investigate further why women are disinterested in politics and how to engage them better.

All in all it is clear the youth are quite informed and are interested in playing a key role but are growing suspicious of politicians and therefore appear to distrust the system. The research findings are available here and here.  However, considering that 77 % of the respondents (mostly youth) had already registered to vote by mid-November, we highly encourage them to exercise their democratic right to vote. Actually, this would be a good opportunity to add their voice and send home those leaders they no longer feel care about their opinion and try new leaders.