No. 36




Young people running as candidates in (local) elections

07 December 2017


RiTo No. 36, 2017

  • Alar Kilp

    Alar Kilp

    Lecturer in comparative politics, University of Tartu

Young people running as candidates in (local) elections should be recognized and acknowledged as: an important type of political participation; a transition from a (largely) passive voter and bystander into an active participant in politics; an activity that is good in itself irrespective of its consequences and successes. Young candidates in elections are as important as young voters.

This article studies the topic from four fundamental aspects:

  1. How does the transition from the political behavior of ordinary citizens into a person who “does politics” in an active way (as a candidate who runs for electoral office) take place in real life? What are the experiences of an individual who goes through this transition?
  2. What ethical and normative dilemmas are being confronted by the persons who have learned the ethics of a good citizen in the classroom, but will face the challenges of conflict and competition both within and between political parties during the electoral campaign?
  3. Politics are competitive and conflictual to the degree that is impossible to reproduce or simulate in educational contexts. In this regard, it is inevitable that the persons who “go into politics” will learn some social and organizational competences “from scratch”, and have to readjust the learned disposition of honesty, solidarity, responsibility and common good to political realities of electoral campaigns.
  4. Lastly, running as a candidate to representative institutions is an important practical outlet for undergraduate students of government and political studies, which allows them to learn how to apply the knowledge about their discipline in real organisational, social and political situations.

The study is based on the answers to a 15-point questionnaire, completed by nine students and one graduate of the program of Government and Politics at the University of Tartu. They all ran as candidates in local elections in October 2017. Among them, the youngest were 19 years old and the oldest 26 years old.

The study demonstrates that the majority were internally motivated to run at local elections. However, for several students, the final decision depended on an invitation or an encouragement either from a political party or from a relative. Two of them “made it” to a local council, but all were positive about the experience. They learned several lessons, including the insight that while it makes sense for young people to represent the interests of the young, it would be better still to address all the other groups of voters as well, and to be competent in issues beyond the ones that concern the young. Eight out of ten had the opportunity to contribute to the electoral program of their party or electoral union in their voting district, three of them even assumed a leadership position during this process. They all saw first-hand how political campaigns are conducted. They all experienced competition and ethical dilemmas. All of them identified principles and tactics to be used in case they would ever run as candidates again. They can now plausibly claim to know what it feels like to be a politician and how it feels like to be in politics.