Think about measures to raise youth voter turnout

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Yumiko Watanabe, NPO Kidsdoor Board Chair

The year 2022 is expected to continue to pose challenges for Japan on issues including the pandemic, foreign affairs and the economy. This is the ninth installment in a series of articles on how authoritative figures in various fields view these matters. The following was excerpted from remarks by Yumiko Watanabe, the chairperson of the board for the NPO Kidsdoor, in a recent Yomiuri Shimbun interview.

During the House of Representatives election campaign in October, young people were actively called on through social media to vote. Turnout was as high as it was for the 2016 House of Councillors election, which was the first election held after the voting age was lowered to 18.

This summer’s upper house election will be the decisive factor in whether this new sprig of “young people participating in politics” can be nurtured.

Turnout among the young remains low. Why aren’t young people participating in elections?

A few years ago, I saw something surprising on Twitter. The post said, “When I urged my college student girlfriend to vote, she started crying.”

Young people are afraid to decide things on their own. They’ve become accustomed to going with the flow of society, and are so fearful of creating any conflict that they’re passing on their right to vote.

I’m constantly telling them, “Voting is like calling to express your love to the nation or to politics. If you don’t use that right, the other side will never notice you.”

In the single-seat constituency system, a large number of young voters could shake up a race all by themselves. I think elections will become more interesting if young people realize they hold a decisive vote.

More people will vote if they realize that politics will move in a positive direction if they raise their voices.

The spread of the novel coronavirus has clarified the relationship between people’s lives and the workings of politics, and interest in politics among young people has increased.

The administration of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida says it values “listening skills,” so this is an opportunity to raise turnout among young people.

Young people’s concerns

In the past, we’ve asked many Diet members over and over to provide additional cash benefits to poor families with children. They’ve expressed sympathy and said things like: “That’s terrible. We’ll do something soon,” but our demands never seem to have been met.

At the time, I felt that low voter turnout among young people made policies for the young a low priority.

That spurred our campaign aiming for 75% voter turnout, which we started for last year’s lower house election.

All the parties’ platforms are filled with policies that are alien to young people. That leaves them with no option for choosing candidates.

We conducted an online survey in August to ask young people about their concerns. What surprised me was that the most important policy area for them when voting was “improving the work environment for the current working generation,” which ranked even higher than policies for the pandemic.

We posted on a website each party’s views regarding the most common concerns cited by young people. What I learned through this was that solving problems one by one is a shortcut.

More flexible campaigning

Traditional ways of campaigning are another bottleneck.

If people think candidates must go out to meet their supporters from the morning, women with children will not be able to run for office.

Allowing for more flexibility in online campaigning (see below), such as through social media and the use of videos, will make it easier for young people and women to become Diet members.

And if more members of the younger generations run for office, then more young people will vote, because they want lawmakers who are attuned to their concerns.

Turnout in upper house elections tends to be lower than for lower house polls. We need to create opportunities for people to go to the polls.

We should consider setting up 24-hour polling places for students who are busy with part-time jobs.

The public and private sectors should think about how to increase turnout and implement policies to make it happen — for example, by giving people who voted coupons to restaurants or extra points on university entrance exams.

The interview was conducted by Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer Kota Iga.

Online campaigning

This has been permitted under the revised Public Offices Election Law since April 2013 and was practiced for the first time in a House of Councillors election in July that year. The law allows political parties, voters and candidates to promote specific candidates through online tools such as websites and social media. However, only candidates and political parties can campaign via email.


Yumiko Watanabe was born in Chiba Prefecture and graduated from the Faculty of Engineering at Chiba University. After working for a major department store and a publishing company, she established Kidsdoor in 2007 and incorporated it as a nonprofit organization in 2009. The inspiration for her activities came when she was living for a year in Britain, where she felt society as a whole put more emphasis on being involved in raising children. She is also a member of a Cabinet Office expert panel regarding child poverty.