How Do Young People Engage with Politics?

Insights from the Common Futures Conversations Youth Survey

Explainer Published 24 July 2019 Updated 4 October 2020 19 minute READ

In March 2019, students in more than 100 countries protested against the lack of international action on climate change. Inspired by 16-year-old Swedish activist, Greta Thunberg, the Youth Strike 4 Climate demonstrations garnered widespread media attention and, despite criticism from some politicians, gave fresh impetus to the policy conversation around climate action. But is this case an outlier for youth involvement in politics and are there other ways, beyond walking out of school, for young people to make their voices are heard?

Across the world, young people are often overlooked in political processes. For example, 60% of Africa’s population is aged under 25, but the median age of its leaders is 62. Meanwhile in Europe, political scientists are increasingly concerned about the effects of an ageing population which numerically marginalizes the concerns of younger voters. Low youth turnout during elections is frequently cited as evidence that the young are too apathetic to participate in democracy. However, these demographic realities suggest that even if electoral turnout were higher among young people, their opinions would still struggle to effect change through traditional political processes.

    Over the first phase of the project, we explored how young Africans and Europeans answered these questions in a series of articles. Find out more about the full results of the survey, including comparisons of the responses from Africa and Europe.

    How do young people engage - Infographic

    Demographics of the Common Futures Conversations survey respondents.

    In a recent Chatham House survey conducted by the Common Futures Conversations project, we asked 3,487 young people from 13 countries across Africa and Europe about their engagement with politics. The respondents were asked to prioritize the importance of a list of political issues based on a range of factors such as which issue was most pressing in their country and which they would choose to spend $1 billion addressing.
    Some of the key questions arising from the survey data are explored in this article, including:


    This article was written by Ben Horton who works as Communications Manager at Chatham House. He is the project lead of the Common Futures Conversations project — a collaboration between Chatham House’s Africa and Europe Programmes and the Communications and Publishing Department.

    The Common Futures Conversations project is developing an online platform to facilitate dialogue between young people and policymakers in Africa and Europe. For more information, please visit the website.

    Common Futures Conversations is a collaboration between Chatham House and Robert Bosch Stiftung.