As the General Election campaign gets under way and the parties’ battle buses rev up, the signs are that it could be one of the closest races to Westminster for many years.
Indeed, many pundits are predicting that it could all end up in a hung parliament, the first since 1974. With a growing disillusionment about politics in general given the scandals of recent times — most notably the furore over MPs expenses — the parties will be hoping to tune into the aspirations and desires of young voters.
How those aged under 25 cast their votes on May 6 could have a vital bearing on who actually gets the keys to 10 Downing Street. In Northern Ireland's historically divided political spectrum, the election race takes on new meaning this year.
Though Labour don’t field any candidates in Northern Ireland, the Ulster Unionists have decided to join forces with David Cameron’s Conservatives — perhaps not breaking the mould of local politics, but at least putting a minor crack in it. But voter turn-out among young people is at an all-time low, and it's declining.
In the 2005 General Election, statistics showed that across the UK only 37% of people aged 18-25 who were registered to vote actually did so. That figure was 2% lower than the 2001 General Election.
Public perception of young people, particularly those in Northern Ireland, is that they’re apathetic. Sir Reg Empey famously went so far as to call unemployed young people in Northern Ireland vampires, adding that they sleep all day and watch TV all night.
We spoke to young people here to find out what the coming election means to them.
Chris Swan (18) from Ballycarry. He says:
“I'm not registered to vote and to be honest I didn't even know that the election had been called. If I did vote it would probably be DUP. That's the way most people in my family tend to vote. I'm not really very interested in politics at the moment, but occupationally I pay attention to something like the problems that went on with policing and justice.”
Emma McQuillan (21) from Belfast. She says:
“I am registered to vote but I probably won't use it because I will be a student in Glasgow until July.
I have voted before when I was 18 although I'm not entirely sure who I voted for — it was probably the Alliance Party or the SDLP. I'm into politics but only a wee bit — I want to be aware of what's going on in the world.”
Charlotte Donald (19) from Belfast. She says:
“I am going to vote in the election but I have no idea who I'm going to vote for yet. I don't think people my age know much about politics — we tend to vote the same way as our parents or follow the lines of Catholic or Protestant. I'll probably vote for some kind of unionist but I'm not sure which kind yet. The scandals that have been going on lately — expenses and Iris Robinson — can really put you off.”
Stephen Elliott (18) from Belfast. He says:
“I am registered to vote but I'm not sure if I will vote or not — to be honest I probably won't. Many people aren't aware of what's going on and that's how I feel. I don't think I know enough about politics or what's going on to make an informed decision. I think people vote the same way as the rest of their families do and don't weigh up the pros and cons.”
Rachel Quee (24) from Belfast. She says:
“Until recently I lived in England so I wasn't aware of what was going on in Northern Ireland politics. I've just started working for a political lobbying company in Belfast and it's part of my job to read the newspapers everyday. I haven't managed to get registered over here yet but if I did I would vote for the Ulster Unionists. I wouldn't vote for the DUP because of all the scandals they've had recently.”
Shane Todd (21) from Holywood. He says:
“I'm not a registered voter specifically because I don't want to vote in the election. I have no faith in the politicians here and I don't think there's much point in filling out all of the paper work just to waste the vote.
There have been a lot scandals recently with the expenses story and Iris Robinson but that hasn't put me off — I didn't have a high enough opinion of anyone here for it to put me off voting for them. Politics in Northern Ireland is in shocking state.”
Colin Robinson (24) from Bangor. He says:
“I am registered to vote in the election and I probably will when the time comes. I think I've voted in most elections since I turned 18.
I tend to vote the same way as most of my family which is unionist. I'm aware a lot of the issues that affect me like taxes. The sleaze stories that have gone on recently don't change the way I vote. I think a private life is a private life — it shouldn't matter to politics.”
Rebecca Edgar (20) from Bangor. She says:
“I'm not registered to vote but I would like to be. A lot of my friends are interested in politics but I just didn't get around to sorting it out.
To be honest I don't know a lot about politics so I wouldn't be confident in my vote but I would try to vote tactically.
It's not about voting for who you want but who you think is most likely to win.”
Ross Lauder (24) from Belfast. He says:
“I've just moved back to Belfast from London and registering to vote is one of those things I haven't got around to doing yet.
I don't pay much attention to politics at all. I'm one of those people who complains about things and then when it comes to election time wishes I'd paid more attention to what's going on. There's no one in Northern Ireland I feel strongly about though.
I think all of the politicians here are as bad as each other.”
Laura Kennedy (19) from Belfast. She says:
“I'm currently in the process of registering to vote so I don't actually know if I'll be able to vote in the election or not.
If I am able to I want to do some research into who I'm going to vote for.
It's an extremely important thing to do so it's only right that you make an informed decision when doing it.”
Stacey Lee (25) from Belfast. She says:
“I won't be voting during this election as I don't have enough faith in any of today's political parties to make a decision.
Even though I studied politics at university, it still doesn't appeal to me. I think if I was forced to vote for one of the parties, it would have to be the Conservatives because they're the only ones that seem to have their heads slightly screwed on.”
David Trimble (27) from Belfast. He says:
“I'm not going to vote for anyone in the upcoming election. I think both leaders are as bad as each other. I would normally vote in the local elections here, but not the national ones. I think if I had to choose, I'd go with the Conservatives because I think that Gordon Brown has failed us in terms of issues such as immigration.”
Gary McKenzie (18) from Ballinamallard. He says:
“I don't know enough about politics to make a decision on who to vote for. I think that I should know more about this kind of thing, but I think even if I did vote, it wouldn't really make any difference to my life.”
Sara Matchett (20) from Belfast. She says:
“I've recently registered to vote and I think I will. I don't know enough about any of the parties to make a decision though, so I think I'll just pick whoever my family and friends go for. It's awkward having to find the time to go to a polling station. It would be a lot easier if you could just vote online.”
Dermot Fair (19) from Belfast. He says:
“I'm very reluctant to vote even though I'm registered. All of the candidates just seem the same to me. I don't think that if I did vote, it would even effect me in any way.
I think online voting would be a bad idea. It would raise all sorts of problems from the reliability of computers to corruption.”
Mark (24) and Louise Gourley (25) from Newtownabbey. They say:
Mark: “Voting simply doesn't appeal to me and I've never had any
interest in it. I don't think it affects us anyway.”
Louise: “I don't understand politics and I've never noticed any difference it's ever made to my life.”
Jill Kennedy (20) from Lisburn. She says:
“I don't know much about politics, but I am registered to vote — and I will vote — even though I've no idea who to vote for.
I'll probably just choose whichever party my parents vote for.
I think people my age who didn't grow up during the Troubles feel a bit detached from politics.”
Damien Darragh (23) from Kilrea. He says:
“I know little about politics, but it's not that I don't care. I was just talking with my friends the other day about how, by the time I've paid for petrol, a few cigarettes and few pints at the bar, my week’s wages are gone.
All we ever hear about is how there are no jobs. So why does the Government keep raising the price of these things? These are the things that matter to me.”
Erin Sears (18) from Ballinamallard. She says:
“I'm studying A level politics at the moment and I still wouldn't vote. It doesn't make any difference to young people so I don't see the point. If they want to appeal to me then they need to do more for younger generations and have more to offer. I think when politicians try to appeal to young people, they get a bit patronising and they come across as trying too hard.”