Sunday marked the first Japanese national election in which the minimum voting age was lowered to 18 from 20. But the lackluster participation of the teens highlights the challenges political parties face in reaching out to youth. The turnout ratio for teenagers in the upper house election was 45.4%, compared with 54.7% for all age groups, according to the internal affairs ministry. A closer look at the teen voters shows that 18-year-olds had a much higher participation rate of 51.17% compared with the 39.66% for 19-year-olds. The former are often still in high school and thus have more opportunities to learn about voting rights in school, while the latter are often in college or working. The rate for 18-year-olds was higher than expected, said Kazunori Kawamura, associate professor at Tohoku University, while stressing a need for a mechanism to help keep them involved.
He said that teens’ participation rate was lower because they are often economically dependent on parents and thus have little awareness of economic issues, which often form the focal point of a national election.
Tomomi Inada, chair of the Liberal Democratic Party policy research council, told The Nikkei Monday that youth should be given more opportunities to exchange opinions with politicians, and to discuss social challenges in class so they can build a familiarity with politics.
Various parties put forth education policies to appeal to young voters by calling for improved scholarships and the elimination of college tuition, among other measures. But their ideas were hardly distinguishable.