The life story of Alex Orlyuk does not seem destined to lead to political apathy. Born in the Soviet Union to a family scarred by the Holocaust, he moved at the age of six to Tel Aviv, where he finished school and military service. He follows politics and prizes democracy. He thinks his government should do more to make peace with Palestinians, separate religion and state, and cut inequality. And yet, now 28 and eligible to vote in the past four general elections, he has never cast a ballot. His abstention, he says, is “a political statement” on the sorry state of Israel’s politics. He does not think any of its myriad parties is likely to bring about the change he wants. Many other young Israelis share his disaffection. Just 58% of under-35s, and just 41% of under-25s, voted in the general election of 2013, compared with 88% of over-55s. No other rich country has a bigger gap in turnout between under-25s and over-55s.
Though Israeli politics is atypical—steeped in questions of war, peace, religious identity and the relationship with Palestinians—the voting behaviour of its young is nevertheless all of a pattern with the rest of the rich world. In Britain and Poland less than half of under-25s voted in their country’s most recent general election. Two-thirds of Swiss millennials stayed at home on election day in 2015, as did four-fifths of American ones in the congressional election in 2014. Although turnout has been declining across the rich world, it has fallen fastest among the young. According to Martin Wattenberg of the University of California, Irvine, the gap in turnout between young and old in many places resembles the racial gap in the American South in the early 1960s, when state governments routinely suppressed the black vote.
Demographic trends further weaken the political voice of the young. In America’s election in 1972, the first in which 18-year-olds could vote, around a fifth of adults were under 25. By 2010 that share was one in eight. Under-25s are on track to make up just a tenth of American adults by mid-century. The young will have dwindled from a pivotal voting bloc into a peripheral one.