The purpose of this paper is to highlight the influence of various factors on voting decision of young people. In this sense, a quantitative exploratory research has been carried out. The influence of factors such as the level of education and the occupation, the personality traits, the living conditions, the recent political, economic and social events, the reference groups, and the affiliation groups on voting decision of young people during the political elections was highlighted. The responses show that the recent political, economic and social events, the level of education and the living conditions have a significant influence, while reference groups and affiliation groups are perceived as having less influence on vote. Also, there was a very close link between the personality traits that young people consider to have and the personality traits that young people would like to have their political candidates.
Table of Contents:
1. Literature review
3. Research Findings and Discussion
1. Literature review
According to Bannon [1, p. 139], there are six major theories of voter choice: the party identification theory, the social determinism theory, issue voting, expressive theory, instrument theory, and interactionist theory.
The mainstream approach in academic thinking regarding both buying behaviour and voting behaviour is based on the “rational choice theory, which supposes that individuals make their buying decisions in line with their own self- interest” [2, p. 130].
Analysing 14 academic studies conducted in the last 20 years in the UK, Dermody, Hanmer-Lloyd, and Scullion [3, p. 423] identified six characteristics of young people’s electoral behaviour: “(1) turnout at elections is lower for 18-24 years old than for older voters, (2) young people are less interested in national political issues, (3) young people perceive politicians and governments as dishonest and inefficacious, (4) a large proportion of young people feel alienated from the society, (5) globalisation is undermining the credibility and authority of national governments, (6) electoral civic-mindedness is less strong in young people”. Although there are important differences between mature and emerging democracies , many of these behavioural characteristics are also found in other countries, including Romania. For Romania, the features (5) and (6) need to be tinted. Young Romanians seem globalization to be an opportunity to study and work in other countries , and their civic consciousness can reach quite high levels .
Traditionally, academics, journalists and public opinion believe that the main motivation for voting is the preference for a particular candidate, and the main reason for non-voting is the indifference to politics. [7, p. 159]. Blais and Achen  argue that an even more important motivation is civic sense, citing research showing that over 70% of US voters, 80% of those in the UK, and even 90% of those in Canada consider that the vote is a citizen’s duty to be fulfilled. An interesting explanation for young people’s lack of interest in politics and their alienation is given by Nickerson [9, p. 48], who finds a vicious circle. The parties are not interested in attracting young people because they think they do not vote anyway, and the youth feel marginalized and this impels them no longer to vote a candidate/party.
We fully agree with Dermody and Hanmer-Lloyd’s finding [10, p. 128]: “The importance of rebuilding young people’s trust in parliamentary politics is critical to the survival of democratic governance.” A starting point for this reconstruction of trust can be a better understanding of the way young people think, their expectations and hopes about the political system and political people, and how they relate to politics and to the electoral system. This study aims to contribute to a better understanding of the factors that influence the vote of young people.
In order to obtain the necessary empirical information, a quantitative research based on a survey was used. A sample of convenience, consisting of 133 students from the two of the most important universities in Bucharest was used.
All respondents were between 18 and 23 years old. According to other research, given the exploratory nature of the study, a convenience sample is considered in an acceptable option. [11, p. 253] The data collection tool was a semi-structured questionnaire, comprising 16 questions. Given the exploratory nature of the research, the questionnaire contained an unusually large number of open-ended questions. The questionnaire was completed by self-administration between April and May 2018.
Personality is really important in explaining behaviour, being considered “the conduit through which the influence of other characteristics passes” [12, p. 247]. A particular attention was given to the establishment of the questions about the respondents’ personality traits and the ideal candidate’s personality traits. To avoid a halo effect , , two questions were put in different sections of the questionnaire at the beginning and at the end of the questionnaire. Different ways of responding were also requested: multiple choice from a list, respectively a differential semantic scale.
3. Research Findings and Discussion
The main objective of the paper was to identify the factors that influence the vote of young people. In this respect, respondents were asked to hierarchize the main factors of influence, to say about each factor whether or not they influence it, and to explain his/her answer.
Regarding the importance of the factors influencing their vote, the following average values were obtained (on a scale from 1 to 7, where 1 = the most important, 7 = the least important):
Young respondents believe that no factor is of great importance. In addition, reference groups and affiliation groups are considered to be of minor importance. An explanation may be the reluctance of young people to accept that other people can influence their behaviour.
Interestingly, the influence of the reference groups (which implies to filter the information through their own judgment) rather than an influence of the affiliation groups (involving a direct influence of family, friends, colleagues etc.) is accepted.
Next, each factor was analysed, respondents specifying whether they consider that one or more factors influence their voting decision and motivate their response. Analysis of these open-ended questions helps to understand better young people's electoral behaviour.
The level of education and the occupation were considered factors of influence by 79.0% of the respondents. Respondents felt that the level of education influences the vote because it “helps us to become aware of the importance of voting”, “a higher level of knowledge can help us to form our opinion about the political climate”, “helps to objectively analyse candidates and to avoid manipulation”, “people with a low level of education are easily influenced and more prone to accept electoral bribery”.
Concerning the occupation, the answers were rather hypothetical, referring to the behaviour of other people, because most of the respondents have no professional experience: “those who hold business will almost always choose the liberal side of politics, while retirees, for the social one”.
Personality traits were considered to influence the vote by 79.7% of the respondents. Many of them emphasized in various forms the importance of the resemblance between the voter’s personality and that of the candidate: “when we choose a person who will represent us, we choose he/she because we find ourselves in that person”, “we tend to elect people who like us”, “we elect someone because we are attracted by his/her personality traits common to ours”.
A young woman who responded affirmatively to the question explained that “every person has his own character and looks at things with other eyes. I make decisions based on both reasoning and feeling”. Another respondent, who replied that personality traits did not influence his vote, argued that “the electoral behaviour depends rather on the knowledge we have and the way we choose to put it into practice; the type of personality is not involved”.
Answering to another question, 76.7% of the respondents said that they were influenced by recent political, economic and social events. Pre-election events are considered relevant because they “work exactly when we form our opinion about the candidates or what they support” and “we can shape an idea of how the present is and how we want to change it in the future”.
Events become more important “if candidates are involved in these events”. Some respondents admitted that the events “do not influence me because I do not track them or I do not value them”. Others have denied the influence of the electoral messages sent by candidates during the electoral campaign: “events do not influence me because there is a lot of lingering in the electoral campaigns; so many things are promised, but no one is done” or “because of corruption, lack of seriousness and lack of dignity of the politicians, I do not trust the political class nowadays”.
The influence factor that the respondents choose in most cases are the living conditions. A percentage of 84.7% of the interviewed young people have admitted that living conditions influence their vote. The motivations were pragmatic: “I wish to have the best living conditions, and my decision to vote will be important for my future”, “each wants his/her life to be easier and to live better; he/she will choose the person he/she thinks best to change his/her life”, “living conditions have a particular influence on me, if I compare the conditions in Romania with those in more developed countries” or even “is no one’s fault if you do not fight for your future”.
There were also young people who had a more idealistic attitude, appreciating that the vote is not necessarily related to the possibility of improving their living conditions: “it never counts how much money you have, but it does matter the people you surround yourself with” or “I try to stay focused on the «general good»”.
Unlike the other factors of influence considered, the reference and affiliation groups were chosen by only a quarter of the respondents (25.4%). Young people have not become aware or have refused to accept the influence that close persons or public figures might have on their electoral decision. The most frequently cited reason is a certain understanding of freedom and desire for independence: “I think everyone has to do what he/she feels”, “Every person has his/her own opinions and we have to respect them”, “I choose what seems right to be for me from my point of view”, “I am very sure on my thoughts and opinions”, “I think it is not a subject to be discussed with the rest of the people. It's just your choice. It should not be justified”.
Another reason is the perception that only their own thinking is objective, the influences of others inducing a dose of subjectivity: “I analyse objectively each aspect and try to make a judgment based on my own opinion”, “people have subjective opinions and it is more important to look the current situation in an objective way”. Also, political opinions are seen as having the potential to create tensions between close people, and it is considered best not to be discussed: “I do not discuss with my reference or affiliation groups political issues in order to avoid any conflict”. On the other hand, those who admit to consider the opinions of others in their voting decision, appreciate that this is absolutely normal: “it is natural to make some decisions based on the opinions of others”, “I am influenced by the people around me because we have things in common. In addition, we are debating different topics that may influence my decisions”, “I always trust my friends and my family and always ask for their opinions”.
Another open-ended question refers to the main motivations that lead young people to vote or not to vote.
The main motivation for young people to vote is the desire to make a change and the confidence that they can generate this change: “the desire to change something”, “the hope that something can change”, “to choose someone more competent than the other”. Also, the civic spirit is another reason: “my main motivation is the civic spirit and I think everyone should vote”, “respect for the country and the responsibility to go to vote”, “I feel better if I choose to do something rather than to be indifferent”.
Other reasons to vote are the belief that even one vote counts (“my vote can make a difference”), or the fear that absenteeism can lead to a worsening of the situation (“I do not want to let others decide for me”, “it’s very likely that when you do not vote, your vote could be stolen/falsified”, “if you do not vote, you have no right to complain later”).
The main motivation that drives some young people not to vote is the lack of confidence in the usefulness of voting (“it does not matter if I vote, it is unlikely to change something”), or the lack of a suitable candidate from their point of view (“the current political class is quite similar and you have no choice”).
Finally, to test the hypothesis that young people tend to prefer political candidates with the same personality traits to them, two questions have been asked. One of these was introduced at the beginning of the questionnaire and asked the respondents to tick off from a list the personality traits that they believe that characterize them. The second question was placed in the final part of the questionnaire and referred to the personality traits that young people want in the case of an ideal candidate. The list of features was the same as the first question, and the respondents were asked to assign a value from 1 to 10 for each feature, depending on its importance. The results are shown in Tables 2 and 3.
What is absolutely remarkable is the full consistency between the hierarchy of personality traits assumed by respondents and the hierarchy of personality traits of the ideal political candidates. In both cases, the most important features were Correctness, Seriousness, and Sociability, and the least appreciated were Flexibility, Empathy, and Modesty. This empirical finding confirms the theory that the voter tends to vote for a candidate who resemble to him/her.
The main conclusions of the study concern the importance of the factors influencing the intention to vote of young people, their motivation to vote or not to vote, and the correlation between the voter’s personality traits and those of the candidate.
Regarding the factors influencing the vote, it was found that none of the factors are particularly highlighted. However, the most important factors are the recent political, economic and social events, the level of education, the living conditions and the personality traits. The least important factors are considered the influence of the affiliation groups and the reference groups.
In terms of motivation to vote, the desire for change and the civic duty are the most often cited reasons. The main reasons mentioned by respondents who do not intend to vote are the lack of confidence in the current political class and the feeling that the vote is useless.
An interesting conclusion, consistent with previous studies, is that there is a direct link between the personality traits of the voter and those of the candidate he/she prefers.
Because of the exploratory character of this work, the conclusions are not definitive, but must be confirmed by further research.