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The 2011 terror attacks mobilized Norwegian youth politically
Turnout among young Norwegian voters increased after the terrorist attacks of 2011 and has remained high since. Are today’s youth becoming more politically active than their parents were?
According to statistics on local and national elections in the past decade-and-a-half, young Norwegians are more politically active than previous generations.
Between the 2007 and 2011 local elections, turnout among the youngest group of voters increased by 11 percentage points and has remained high ever since. Youth party membership also increased significantly in 2011.
Researchers Johannes Bergh, Jo Saglie, and Guro Ødegård explain why in a new book chapter titled “Why did young Norwegians mobilize: external events or early enfranchisement?”
The three researchers identify the main cause as the terrorist attacks of July 22, 2011, when terrorist Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people, 69 of whom he massacred in a mass shooting at a Labor Party youth camp on the island of Utøya.
“The 22 July terrorist attacks mobilized young voters around democratic values. An intense media focus, combined with national rallies and high-profile speeches, reinforced this effect on young Norwegians who were in their formative years politically”, explains Johannes Bergh.
Youth politicians are no longer nerds
The researchers analyzed voting statistics and the size of party membership and interviewed youth politicians and young voters. In one interview, 22-year-old Lise agreed that the terrorist attacks had had a mobilizing effect on young voters.
“People died on Utøya because they believed in something. I think this has become an important motivation for young people to vote, so that those who were killed did not die in vain,” she told the researchers.
Other interviewees emphasized that politically active youth were no longer labelled as “nerds” after the terrorist attacks. Knowledge of youth parties increased and, overall, Norwegian youth party membership jumped to 16,500 people in 2011—an increase of approximately 6,000 compared to the previous year. This membership surge benefitted all of Norway’s youth parties, not just the Labor Party youth wing.
“Youth politicians like me are no longer considered nerds. Young Norwegians in general were given an eye-opener. People now understand that youth politicians are human beings and that youth parties actually exist,” explained Carl from the youth branch of the Conservative Party in an interview with the researchers.
Climate change concerns young people
Will this political spark remain lit among the youth in the coming years and decades?
“Caring about democracy” or “standing united against right-wing extremism” may not be sufficient to maintain political commitment over time, according to Bergh. Young voters, like everyone else, need specific issues that affect and engage them in a personal way in order to mobilize.
Their parents and the older segment of voters still have the highest turnout in elections, as in most other countries. However, today’s young voters in Norway are more politically active than their parents were at the same age, both in terms of election turnout and party membership. Therefore, we could see the rise of a generation that will be more politically active than their parents throughout their lives.
“The numbers clearly show that young voters care a lot about climate change, an issue that most likely will continue to dominate our politics in the foreseeable future. Thus, we have reason to believe that their political engagement will continue,” says Johannes Bergh.
Guro Ødegård, Johannes Bergh og Jo Saglie: Why Did Young Norwegians Mobilize: External Events or Early Enfranchisement? Palgrave Macmillan. Part of the book series Palgrave Studies in Young People and Politics, 2020. (Sammendrag)ISBN 978-3-030-32540-4
This article is produced and financed by the Institute for Social Research
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