Generational Gap or Different Degrees of Issue Attention: Party Youth Wings and Parent Parties on Youth Integration on the Labour Market

Friday, 3 July 2015: 4:00 PM-5:30 PM
TW2.1.01 (Tower Two)
Martin Ejnar Hansen, Brunel University London, Uxbridge, United Kingdom
The problem of youth integration on the labour market is an often debated topic among political elites, not least with the current situation where youth unemployment in numerous countries is extremely high. However, the topic is also debated among the youth actors themselves, e.g. through the parties’ youth wings, which in many cases produce their own policy platforms different from that of their parent parties. Thus, on one hand parent parties, who speak to a broader audience, may come across as having a generational gap towards the policies they present for improving youth engagement with the labour market. While on the other hand, the youth wings have a different level of issue attention mostly focusing on matters directly relevant for their members.

Very little research exist on youth wings, and what does exists is single-country studies (e.g. Hooghe, Stolle and Stouthuysen, 2004) or included as parts of different approaches to youth political engagement  (e.g. Henn et al., 2002;  Mycock and Tonge, 2012). This is remarkable given that youth wings generally play an important as vehicles for political socialisation and recruitment for the parent parties (Hooghe, Stolle and Stouthuysen, 2004; Recchi, 1999). Hooghe, Stolle and Stouthuysen (2004: 196-197) further argue that youth wings function as socialising agents for partisanship and organisational learning processes by introducing the members to the ideology of the party and the introduction of the members to the political and party life. Recruiting party elites from within the youth wings should also entail a form of policy transfer where the policies presented while in the youth wing may in some form or other inspire the policy formulation at a later point in time in the career in the parent party. This makes the policies of the youth wings valuable to study as they can to some extent be seen as mirrors of the future policies of the parent parties. This is corroborated by Russell (2005) who argues that the most important role of the youth wings is providing a link between the past, present and future for the political parties.

In this paper the focus is on the relationship between youth wing and parent party policies on the policy area of youth integration on the labour market is explored. Focus is especially on education policy, youth employment strategies and the way the actors problematize the concept of youth in relation to the labour market. The relationship is analysed for Denmark, Norway and Sweden from 2005-2015 using for youth wings a novel dataset of youth party policy platforms, and for parent parties’ election manifestos. The comparison of youth wing and parent party policies in the three Scandinavian countries allow for inferences being drawn from well-developed welfare states where the government policies in relation to labour market play a significant role. It is also three countries where traditionally a significant number of cabinet members and MPs have background in the youth wings of their respective parties.

In the cases where there are differences between the manifesto of the political party and that of the youth organisation can be viewed as due to primarily two elements. It could either be due to different audience, where the political party must speak to an electorate that is between 18 and 100; the youth organisation can focus their policy proposals on a much narrower cohort, 14-30. Or it might be due to a different ideological stance, where the political parties are constrained by previous policy positions and perhaps also the wish for entering government the youth organisations are less constrained by such factors. Indeed, it might also be a combination of the two factors.

                Using the election manifestos of the parent parties and the policy platforms of the youth wings allow the analysis to be based on policies agreed upon by the parties. The methodological approach will be a mixture of quantitative text analysis and qualitative analysis of the statements made relating to youth labour market integration.

The paper begins with a discussion of youth involvement on the labour market in the Scandinavian countries followed by a discussion of youth wings and parent parties and their policy formulation and the ensuing policy documents. Building on this the methodological perspective is discussed and from that the analysis is presented. The expected findings are a) youth wings devote much more attention to the policy issue than parent parties, b) youth wings take a more radical stand on policy related to youth labour market integration, and c) an ideological political divide is much more pronounced among youth wings than parent parties.