Germany fights for first-time voters | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 19.09.2013
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Germany fights for first-time voters

Three million young people will be able to vote for the first time on September 22, but for many of them, that’s no reason to get excited. Some initiatives are stepping in to get young voters into the election spirit.

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Germany fights for first-time voters

Nineteen-year-old Armin Wolking hasn't decided yet which party he will choose. It's the first time he's voting in a federal election, and it's a decision he's not thrilled about making.

"It's important to me, but I'm not really happy with the parties I can vote for," he told DW. "I can't really say, 'That is the right party for me,' or 'That is the right person for me.' So because of that it doesn't seem that important for me anymore."

Armin says he's interested in politics, but the issues he cares about - foreign policy, human rights, treatment of refugees, and gay marriage - haven't played a significant role in the major parties' election campaigns.

The hosts of Katerfrühstück, singer Marie Meimberg and YouTube personality Doktor Allwissend pulling peace signs with their tongues out, Copyright:

Katerfrühstück hosts, singer Marie Meimberg and YouTube personality Doktor Allwissend

The average German is 45 years old. First-time voters, ranging from 18 to 21, make up fewer than four percent of the electorate, so it's not surprising that some young people like Armin feel there's little on offer for them.

Getting youth to tune in

In the run-up to the election, youth organizations have been conducting their own campaigns to reach out to young voters who might be feeling left out.

"Politics aren't that sexy most of the time and it's not that easy to engage young people," Franziska von Kempis, editor for the initiative Du Hast die Macht (You Have the Power), told DW.

"You've got huge topics - you've got Europe, you've got the euro, you've got money, you've got finance, you've got taxes. It's unsexy, it's not that appealing and mostly it's very far away from what I experience in my day to day life," she commented.

Du Hast die Macht uses tools like videos, social media, an online game, and an online talk show to get first time voters thinking about election issues.

The group's talk show is called "Katerfrühstück" (literally, Hangover Breakfast) and uses Google's Hangouts on Air to hold discussions with politicians from different parties. Each week they have set themes such as the legalization of cannabis, digital democracy and political-speak used during election campaigns.

A room full of students holding colourful pieces of paper in the air to indicate which parties' policy they support, Copyright:

Pupils vote on which policies they agree with during a Wahl Gang discussion

The show is meant to be fun, says von Kempis. Voters can log on and question politicians directly, and the discussion is moderated by German YouTube personalities like Mr Trashpack, Doktor Allwissend and rapper Visa Vie.

Bringing politics into the classroom

In Germany's last federal election in 2009, around 61 percent of people under the age of 25 voted, compared to 71 percent of the wider population. A national survey by Stern magazine in August found only 46 percent of respondents between 18 and 29 years of age knew the date of this year's election, while 73 percent of people in other age groups knew it was in September.

Young people are often seen as being disinterested in politics, but political science student Jantke Perkuhn of Potsdam says that's simply not true.

The 20-year-old is part of Wahl Gang 13 (in English, Election Gang), a project that brings panels of politicians to high schools to field policy questions from pupils. The idea is to give new voters a chance to identify the differences between the parties.

A female student with a mircophone asks a question, Copyright:

High school students get the chance to quiz politicians as part of Wahl Gang 13

Perkuhn has visited 11 schools in Germany ahead of the election and said that most of the students she's met have been well informed and have questions about tax reforms, the education system, and the minimum wage.

"We also had discussions about Syria and [the NSA scandal], and people are really informed about it, they ask critical questions," she said.

"I think it's important that the pupils see that politicians or politics are not just a media topic that's so far away from them, so that they have the possibility to ask their questions and to talk about their concerns."

Hot-button issues for youth

Now more than ever, politicians are using Facebook and Twitter to connect with younger generations. While there may be a range of projects in Germany aimed at informing first-time voters about politics and policies, it's difficult to measure what kind of an impact they have.

Wolfgang Gaiser from the German Youth Institute in Munich says there's a chance that such initiatives will only "motivate the motivated," instead of reaching those who are truly cut off from political debate.

"There are some groups of young people which are very disinterested in politics, and you can't motivate these young groups," he said. "These are the poorer young people and the not so well educated."

However, Gaiser added that it's possible voter turnout will be higher among young people this year compared to previous years because of current pressing challenges like the Syria conflict and the euro crisis.

"Therefore young people are more open to politics in general, and they will use the possibility to vote," predicted Gaiser.

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