As many as 1.3 million first-time voters will reach the age of eligibility for voting come the presidential election in January and, as one might expect, candidates are starting to target their votes.
I come into contact with a lot of first-time voters because of the nature of my job, so I have gotten to know their thoughts on, and attitudes toward, this coming election.
I have been shocked by how many of them, the majority, in fact, do not really care about the first presidential poll in which they are entitled to vote. Some are even extremely indifferent to it.
There are several reasons for this, in addition to a general lack of trust in politicians and little sense of identification with political parties.
The major factor lies in social issues such as low employment, relatively low wages and high housing and commodity prices. These problems make them feel helpless in the current situation and uncertain about their future.
The social environment facing first-time voters now is different than in the past, when there was confrontation between the pan-blue and pan-green camps based on different ethnic backgrounds and their resulting ideologies.
This time around, it is more about the kind of social issues that have a direct impact on the voters themselves.
Graduates venturing out into the job market are finding it difficult to find well-paid positions. Those still in school are also facing a lack of part-time jobs to support themselves through school.
When these problems become common, the collective frustration and confusion of these first-time voters forms a new prevailing atmosphere.
For them, the most important consideration is: Which candidate can promise hope for young people worried about their future? They don’t want to be building their future in the clouds, however engaging such a prospect might be. They need to build it on solid ground, something that will act as a foundation for the rest of their lives.
That being so, the two parties’ presidential candidates should focus on policies such as housing, wages and employment, policies with “meat” that cater to the needs of young people. However, under President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) “22K policy” — subsidizing businesses between 2009 and last year to hire graduates at a relatively low salary of NT$22,000 per month — many people decided not to take up the jobs on offer, preferring to stay at home as NEETs (Not in Employment, Education or Training), and essentially freeloading on their parents.
More and more young people are seeing entrance into government positions as their best bet for a stable future. This just goes to show how little confidence young people actually have in the job market at the moment.
This leads to another problem, because if government policy cannot create a sound job market, how can government agencies manage to take on high volumes of graduates in the long run? Given their lack of prospects at the moment, how can the candidates expect first-time voters not to be disillusioned with politics?
Lin Hsin-jung is a research assistant at Taiwan Thinktank.
TRANSLATED BY EDDY CHANG