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Legislative Council elections 2016

Post-Occupy surge in young voters during Hong Kong’s 2016 Legco elections

Turnout among those aged 18 to 20 rose by 16 percentage points, but older voters still dominated ballot

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 31 January, 2017, 6:00pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 31 January, 2017, 11:19pm

Voters aged between 18 and 20 clocked the biggest surge in the turnout rate during last year’s Legislative Council elections, up 16 percentage points on the 2012 polls, new figures have revealed.

But despite that bounce, elderly and middle-aged people still easily cast the lion’s share of votes. September’s polls had 150,763 more voters aged 61 or above than five years earlier, dwarfing the number of new voters aged between 18 and 40 by 11,447.

It was the highest turnout since direct elections began in 1991. Some 58 per cent of the electorate – 2.2 million people – cast a vote, up 5 percentage points from 2012.

The Legco elections were the first since the pro-democracy Occupy protests in 2014, and returned six young lawmakers advocating self-determination for Hong Kong, including student activist Nathan Law Kwun-chung.

Numbers released by the Registration and Electoral Office showed 65 per cent of Hongkongers aged between 66 and 70 voted in September, as that age group continued to top the turnout rate table.

Generally youngsters lag behind the overall turnout. But bucking that trend, 59 per cent of people aged between 26 and 35 voted, 1 percentage point above the average.

The turnout rate reflects a group’s number of votes cast as a share of its registered voters, and so comparisons between different elections’ turnout rates do not reflect total votes cast by each group, which go up and down as demographic changes alter the group’s size.

Analysis shows that the turnout rate for all four age groups under 35 surged from 2012.

The turnout rate of those between 18 and 20 – all of them first-time voters – soared 16 percentage points to 58 per cent in the 2016 elections. The second-largest rise was among the 31-35s, whose turnout rate increased from 49 per cent in 2012 to 59 per cent last year.

The 21-25 group was up 9 percentage points to 55 per cent, and the 26-30s up 8 percentage points to 59 per cent.

By contrast, the eight age groups above 35 all recorded only small turnout rate growth from 2012, between 2 and 5 percentage points, equalling or falling below the overall average. The turnout levels – and number of people in these groups – had been higher to begin with, though.

Political scientist Dr Chung Kim-wah, of Polytechnic University’s Centre for Social Policy Studies, said it was a universal pattern for elderly and middle-aged people to vote in higher and steadier numbers, while turnouts of young voters tended to fluctuate, and could rise and fall upon individual events.

Comparing the situation in Hong Kong to the 2008 US presidential election, when Barack Obama mobilised many young voters, Chung said the Occupy movement of 2014 was the turning point for Hongkongers, and a political awakening for the new generation.

“They now care about politics; want to devote themselves to social movements; and want to change the game rules,” Chung said. “But it remains to be seen whether their passion, and the trend [of the rising turnout], can be sustained.”