By Julian Dierkes
There has been some debate around the low turnout rate in Mongolian election. The overall turnout was under 60% and thus much lower than the first round in 2017 and a continuation of the long-term trend of declining participation.
This long-term trend is something that Adhy Aman has looked at in a blogpost for the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA). His focus on the youth vote is also reasonable even in simply eyeballing turnout by five-year cohorts as the General Election Commission done and as is reproduced by ikon.mn, for example.
While 18-19 year-olds voted at nearly the national rate, turnout drops significantly for voters in their 20s and even in their 30s.
Voter Registration as a Reason for Low Voter Turnout
Obviously, the greatest concern about the lack of political participation of young voters is that they are disengaged and unconcerned about elections and democracy.
But there may also be a host of other reasons that might keep young voters from voting.
In discussions, a number of people have pointed out that challenges in the registration process coupled with COVID restrictions may have generally depressed turnout and especially so for young voters.
One of the measures that has been adopted to combat air pollution in Ulaanbaatar is a restriction on migrating to the city. Or, more administratively, a restriction on new residence registrations to the city.
This puts migrants to the city in the situation that they are unable to register locally. Not only does this have an impact on their access to social services, but it also means that they are unable to vote in Ulaanbaatar if that is where they are residing.
The additional twist in this year’s election would be that COVID restrictions would have also prevented voters to travel to their places of registration to vote there.
Voter Registration and Young Voters
How does this affect young voters in particular?
- It is generally assumed (and there probably is evidence for this in the census) that migrants to Ulaanbaatar are disproportionately younger.
- University students who are younger will have been affected even more this year by the early election date. While elections in the past had been held in late June when students might have returned to family homes, the early June election date, especially under pandemic conditions, will have prevented them from voting. This may also explain the big drop-off from the 18-19 year-old voters to the next older cohort of 20-24 year-olds, from 56.5% to 43.7% (the lowest turnout of any age group).
What about Absolute Numbers of Young Voters?
But turnout out only tells part of the story, what about absolute numbers?
Clearly, the Mongolian population pyramid looks very different from that of Canada or Germany, for example, with very large birth cohorts of young people (see, for example, multiple tables/charts provided by the Mongolian Statistical Information Service). In 2020, people under 30 were more than half of the total population and the single largest 5-year cohort was Mongolians from 5-9 at nearly 390,000. By contrast, only 85,000 Mongolians were over 70 years old in 2020, only 2.5% of the population.
Given this demographic reality, the small percentages of younger Mongolians voting still translate into large absolute numbers and thus a lot of political power.
The total turnout for the under-30 was thus only 46.8%, but that still translated into 251k votes, or roughly 1/5 of all the votes casts.
By contrast, older voters participated much more actively (73.3% of the over 70 age group), but their votes added up to much fewer votes than the under 30s (63k in total).
So, yes, it certainly is a concern that younger voters are participating in lower numbers than older Mongolians. This is perhaps even more surprising, however, when considering that younger Mongolians by the sheer power of their absolute numbers hold considerable power.