The turnout of young people in Hong Kong’s district council elections doubled last year to 73.1 per cent, as new voting analysis reveals how pan-democrats secured their landslide victory.
The emergence of 18 to 35-year-olds as the most active age group at the ballot box last November is in stark contrast to previous polls including 2015, when they were the least represented, in a surge attributed to the anti-government protests that broke out in the city last summer with youth as their driving force.
Amid record overall turnout of 71.2 per cent in 2019, the pro-democracy camp inflicted a heavy defeat on their pro-establishment rivals, riding on the anti-establishment sentiment fomenting from the protests since last June.
The camp now controls 17 out of 18 district councils, having won 392 seats, leaving its opponents with just 60, in a dramatic shift of local power.
According to a Post study of the latest election data, average turnout was fairly evenly distributed across all age groups.
Those aged 18 to 35 were the most active with 727,000 casting their vote, amounting to 73.1 per cent of registered voters. They accounted for 18 per cent of all who cast their ballot paper.
Ahead of last year’s elections, the number of registered voters in this age group had jumped by more than 12 per cent from 2018.
The turnout rate of those aged 36 to 60 was 72.9 per cent, while 67.5 per cent of registered voters aged 61 or above visited the ballot box.
The rise of young voters flies in the face of previous elections.
In the 2015 district council elections, the turnout for voters aged 18 to 35 voters was just 36.6 per cent, which was up on the 29.9 per cent from 2011 in the wake of Occupy Central, the largely youth-driven movement that blocked part of the city for 79 days in 2014 over universal suffrage.
The youngest category’s rate was far behind the 53.1 per cent turnout for those aged 61 or above.
“In the past, the turnout rate among Hong Kong youngsters was lower than the elders, which is a common phenomenon shared by Western democracies,” said Dr Chung Kim-wah, a retired political scholar at Polytechnic University. “But last year was a unique situation in Hong Kong.”
Chung said youngsters formed the backbone of those taking part in the anti-government protests, which were sparked by the now-withdrawn extradition bill.
Of the roughly 7,500 people arrested over the protests since then, about 3,000 were students, ranging from secondary school to tertiary education level, according to police information released earlier this month.
Referring to the opposition legislators who were stripped of their seats in the Legislative Council for improper oath-taking in 2016, Chung said: “[Young people] felt the urge to send a strong signal to the government to object to its tough handling of protesters, even though some did not trust the electoral system after the disqualification of pro-democracy lawmakers.”
Chung believed the raft of new young candidates standing as independents as well as for traditional political parties last November also drew more youngsters to polling stations.
Regarding the upcoming Legco election set to be held in September, Chung expected another high turnout among youngsters, as the pan-democrats eyed up challenging for a majority in the 70-seat legislature.
More from South China Morning Post:
- Hong Kong election takeaways: has pan-democrat domination made them kingmakers in race to succeed Carrie Lam as chief executive?
- Hong Kong elections: pan-democrats celebrating landslide win vow to keep up pressure on city’s beleaguered leader to address protesters’ demands