TOKYO -- 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.
Economic policies and revising the constitution were this election's points of contention. An official with the Japanese Communist Party regretted failing to craft a message that would appeal to youth.
An exit poll by Kyodo News showed that 40% of teen voters chose LDP candidates in proportional representation, compared with just 19.2% that voted for candidates from the largest opposition Democratic Party. "There is no doubt that LDP support is increasing among youth," Katsuya Okada, president of the party, said Sunday night when admitting defeat in the election. "Our approach was not enough."
Keiji Kokuta of the Communist Party told The Nikkei Monday that "we have yet to appeal to young people."
One of the focuses in reaching out to youth has been the mode of communication. The LDP used videos to plainly explain its stance ahead of the election, sharing videos of each candidate on its official Twitter page. The Democratic Party used Twitter and free chat app Line to encourage people to vote.
The data was collected from benchmark municipalities nationwide with representative turnout ratios, covering 11,480 eligible voters aged 18-19. The teens' turnout ratio was better than the 33.37% for voters in their 20s in the 2013 upper house election, when the all-age ratio was 52.61%.