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Rejuvenating Politics: Young Political Participation in a Changing World

Image in illustrative. Photo by Josh Barwick on Unsplash

This chapter reviews existing theories of youth electoral participation and political participation more generally. We separate the literature into studies that deal with the implications of socio-economic change, those that emphasize changes in the nature of the political system, and those that pay greater attention to (youth) political activism. The analysis highlights the central role of education, identity and communication in shaping youth engagement in, or disillusionment with, politics. The chapter sets out our conceptualisation of ‘young cosmopolitans’. We argue that a combination of economic stagnation, high levels of educational attainment, and rapid social change, have resulted in a historically distinct cocktail of political engagement and resentment, and the emergence of a large, young group of cosmopolitan-left citizens in the UK and other established democracies.

These developments explain the widespread youth support both for Britain remaining in the European Union and for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party. Building on the recent work of Norris and Inglehart (2018), we assert that young people’s politics is defined both by material interests (which became more pressing in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis), but also by an outward-looking cosmopolitanism and acceptance of cultural diversity. Young cosmopolitan-left individuals are likely to hold university degrees, to be in full-time education, female, and live in an urban environment. Conversely, young, white males with low levels of educational attainment are least likely to possess these views.

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