On 15 March the Netherlands will hold parliamentary elections, with 28 parties vying for votes – including those of the 850,000 Dutch young people who will be voting in a national election for the first time.

Analysts suggest that around ten seats could swing based on young people’s votes. But this is only if they actually go to the polls. Young people aged between the ages of 18 and 24 belong to the largest group of non-voters. Almost one-third of people in that age range did not vote in the 2012 Dutch parliamentary elections.

For young voters, the political arena is abstract, complex and distant. Interest in politics is very low among young Dutch people because the topics debated by politicians do not relate to their interests. 18-24-year-olds are mostly students, engaged in pursuing education, finding employment and setting up their lives.

Another issue is that many young people in the Netherlands do not fully understand what each party stands for. The policy documents and debates are often technical and explained in a language they are not familiar with. Dutch politicians need to explain their ideas to young people and show them that politics is about their future too.

“For young voters, the political arena is abstract, complex and distant”

Due to a lack of participation in national elections, young people are not well represented in the Dutch political system. And the participation gap between the young and the old is only growing. The older generation governs the country and makes decisions without considering future generations – a result of the passivity of young people and an almost collective decision not to vote.

The Netherlands is not the only country that is struggling to get to grips with an ageing population and a growing generation gap. Many of the people who voted for Britain to leave the European Union in last year’s referendum were from older generation, but the decision will have lasting consequences on future generations – their education and their opportunities.

The younger generation of the Dutch must be aware of the results of the national election. It will not only shape national policy but the position of the Netherlands in Europe.

The current polls demonstrate that Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom (PVV) is rising in popularity. If the polls are to be believed the Eurosceptic PVV will make decent gains while the parties currently forming the government will lose out: the Liberal VVD will maintain its current seats, and Labour (PVdA) is almost certain to suffer losses.

Given the unexpected victory of Donald Trump in the United States presidential election and the outcome of the Brexit referendum, one can question the reliability of polls, although the election in the Netherlands takes place in a slightly different context, given that to achieve a majority in parliament a coalition is needed – and this can happen only if the parties work together.

“Dutch politicians must build a bridge between politics and future generations”

The upcoming elections are among the most important elections in recent Dutch history. This is especially true for the younger generation, which will be affected the most. For the sake of future Dutch generations it is vital that young people vote, taking their rights seriously, regardless of their view of politics.

First, the media should give those young people who are already participating in politics the platform to inspire and inform other young people about voting. Most young people are more willing to listen to their peers than older generations.

Second, the government should provide an opportunity for young people to vote at colleges and universities, making it easier for them to cast their ballot.

And third, higher education institutions should provide students with information during their classes. These institutions could work together and invite experts to speak to students about forthcoming elections and political movements.

But Dutch politicians also must build a bridge between politics and future generations. They must demonstrate leadership in mobilising this group, encouraging them to vote regardless of their political identity. Should they fail, the consequences could be severe.

IMAGE CREDIT: CC / Flickr – Adam Scotti