“Havel’s children” likely to shun lower house elections

Young supporters of Public Affairs party, photo: CTK

If the imminent Czech lower house elections have failed to enthuse a large part of the population so far then that appears doubly true for many young people. Figures suggest they could stay away from the polls in droves. And part of the blame seems to lie with the political parties themselves.

They have been dubbed “Havel’s children” after the first non-communist president, Václav Havel. These teenagers and early twenty-somethings have no memories of the pre-1989 Velvet Revolution Communist regime and have lived all or nearly all their lives under western-style democracy.

Young supporters of Public Affairs party,  photo: CTK
But surveys suggest that many of the around half a million young people who will be able to vote for the first time in the country’s key elections, those to the lower house at the end of May, will shun a basic building block of the democratic process: casting your ballot.

Polls for a wider band of voters, those up to 29, say only around 58 percent might vote this time round.

Other estimates for first time voter participation are even lower. Jan Hartl is a sociologist and head of the polling agency STEM.

“The turnout figure if they think that the elections are a challenge to both two main parties and that they can express a certain protest could be around 50 percent.”

But Mr. Hartl says that figure could drop to as low as 40 percent if young people get the impression that even a protest vote is not worth the effort.

That compares with a final participation of 64.5 percent of eligible voters in the last lower house elections in June 2006. Then nearly three times more 18- to 21-year-olds than the average voted for the Green Party, with a higher proportion also for the eventual winners, the centre-right Civic Democrats.

This time around the Greens appear to be struggling to get back in parliament and younger voters seem to have switched some of their support to the newcomer parties TOP 09 and Public Affairs.

Jan Herzmann, the head of polling agency Factum Invenio, says the young are the one group who are likely to be no-shows in the upcoming elections in spite of the fact that their overall right-wing preferences could tip the result.

“They could, if they come, influence the results slightly to the right. But the big question we face is whether they will really come and cast their votes.”

STEM’s Jan Hartl says part of the problem is that political parties are not bothering to reach out to young people for the simple reason that they are not what is politely termed “disciplined” voters.

“Pragmatically thinking about organising these campaigns, they know that to invest in young people is a somewhat insecure investment, whereas if they concentrate on a very probable vote and high turnout, it is quite logical they would concentrate mostly on the older generation.”

Simply put, young voters might have more elections ahead of them than their parents or grandparents but they can not be relied to go out and vote.