Since I have been studying and interning in London I have witnessed firsthand the changing attitudes towards politics across the United States and Great Britain. Although our political systems vary immensely, both nations have been plagued by civic disengagement. The recent events of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump have caused lots of uncertainty. Yet, they have sparked a renewal in political engagement that hasn’t been seen in decades.
Over the last few decades, both the United States and the United Kingdom have seen young voters that are less interested and engaged in politics than their elder counterparts. Since the 1970s, economic inequality has been a key factor causing political inequality and therefore civic disengagement in the United States. In the UK the lack of political education in the school curriculum has left people feeling like they didn’t know enough about the various issues and representatives so they choose not to vote.
However, both the election of Donald Trump and the Brexit referendum shocked the world and changed the status quo of each nation. Following each of these events, there has been increasing civic renewal from citizens that will likely outlast his presidency and the Brexit negotiations.
Trump was able to gain the support of a group on non-active voters who previously excluded themselves from the political process. Many of them felt disregarded in the past and were drawn to Trump’s nonconventional candor and his dramatic plans for change. The Brexit vote also showed a deep divide across people and the voting population in Britain. The leave vote gained the support of those with more socially conservative beliefs who believed that life in Britain was getting worse rather than better.
Since the election, I have seen an interesting shift in engagement that I have never experienced before. There have been marches for things such as women’s rights, gun control, and education happening frequently across the nation. Similarly, since the vote to leave, many more younger people have been engaged in the political process and are concerned with the future of the UK. Since the vote, millennials have been shown to be more likely to have protested and contributed to a campaign.
Research has shown that Brexit has caused younger generations to become more politically active in less conventional ways than their elders. They are still less likely to vote, but they are more likely to join a campaign, donate to a political party, or volunteer.
Although both the election of Donald Trump and the Brexit negotiations have caused turmoil in our governments, there are some positive things that have come from it. These events were able to spark political engagement to a new generation, which will hopefully mark a continuing trend of instilled civic character. With the 2018 midterm elections happening this fall I am optimistic that the citizens in the US will take this surge and elect representatives that are legitimate. I believe we will see the same increased level of engagement following the final Brexit negotiations.
Economics and Political Science Major, University of Florida – FIE Intern for Jon Cruddas MP