Political Efficacy and Youth Non-Voting: A Qualitative Investigation into the Attitudes and Experiences of Young Voters and Non-Voters in New Zealand
Thesis DisciplinePolitical Science
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
This thesis examines political efficacy and youth non-voting in New Zealand. Drawing from a focus group discussion and depth interviews with 20 young people, I compare and contrast the attitudes and experiences of 18-24 year-old voters and non-voters. I assess whether the theory of political efficacy is a useful conceptual tool for distinguishing between their attitudes, and evaluate the ability of efficacy theory to explain youth non-voting in New Zealand. The thesis draws attention to the oft-overlooked benefits of using qualitative methods to conduct political science research. Based on my research, I find that the standard (quantitative) operationalisation of efficacy obscures the complex and nuanced nature of young people's thoughts about politics. Depth interviews and focus groups are found to be valuable means to gain insight into the political attitudes of young people, as - unlike quantitative methods - they allow participants to elucidate themselves using language and ideas of their own. A purposive sampling strategy using snowball referrals also proved to be a useful way to recruit young non-voters, indicating to future researchers that such an approach may be a good way to access disengaged populations. Contrary to the predictions of efficacy theory and to the findings of research in the quantitative tradition, I find fewer differences between young voters and non-voters than expected: the interviews and focus group in fact reveal surprising similarities in the political efficacy of young voters and non-voters. Through my research I identify three types of young non-voters: 'disinterested', 'inconvenienced' and 'principled' non-voters, each of whom give different and diverse explanations for their non-participation. These findings suggest that the usefulness of efficacy theory as an explanation for youth non-voting may have been overstated, and my research highlights the need to remain open to other explanations for youth electoral disengagement - such as rational choice and post-materialist theories.