Young voters in their 20s are seen to have made changes in the 20th general election, in which the governing party lost the parliamentary majority it had held for 16 years. The voting turnout for those in their 20s was 49.4 percent, according to the exit poll data of three broadcasters (KBS, MBC, and SBS), showing a noticeable increase from a 41.5 percent voting rate in 2012 and a 28.1 percent rate in 2008. Moreover, those in their 20s comprised the highest share of early voters at 17.91 percent. Exit poll results showed that more than 70 percent of those in their 20s voted for the liberal opposition parties.
A significant portion of those voters in their 20s might have been first-time voters. Voting, in reality, is a costly behavior. People need to learn about the candidates, find the locations of their polling stations and go to the polls. For first-time voters, the costs of voting are even more enormous. They do not even know how to vote since they have never gone through the process of voting, and they may not understand the differences among parties, as well as their stances on key national issues. Moreover, their peer group also does not have voting experiences to share and they are uncertain about the outcomes of voting, whether it be enjoyable, easy, time-consuming, or boring.
For those who crossed the high threshold of voting in the last general election, the remaining task is to develop the habit of voting. Researchers on voter turnout agree that voting behavior is a gradually acquired habit. Despite of the great costs involved, a majority of citizens overcome those costs and settle into being habitual voters. For that, what we need are adequate resources that can promote participation in voting. For first-time voters, the resources to overcome the high costs are not equally given. Studies have shown that parental education level and parental political involvement are key resources that may provide election-related knowledge that offsets the cost of first-time voting. In other words, young citizens may start voting early or late depending on the amount of such resources.
However, once they started their voting, it is time for young citizens to achieve and develop their own political resources. Resources for participation include many elements, such as time, money, and civic skills. Most importantly, having a daily communication network, in which they can obtain valuable political information and exchange political thoughts with fellow citizens, is important. In these days, having such a network is not difficult thanks to the widespread use of many online social networking sites (SNSs). For example, on SNSs, we have relatively easy access to highly valuable political information because we can have interactions with individual experts such as journalists, politicians and political commentators. Having an online social network, in which an abundance of political experts exchange quality information, may function as a shortcut to obtaining otherwise expensive resources for voting.
Voters in their 20s have long been criticized for being indifferent to politics. On April 13, 2016, these young voters have shown that they are starting to move and now they desperately want their voices to be heard. Now it is time to develop their own political resources, the habit of voting, and consistentency of pushing policymakers to reflect youth-related needs.
Professor Choi Ji-hyang is a professor of the Department of Communication and Media. She received her master’s degree and Ph.D. in Indiana University.