Whether it’s Russell Brand interviewing Ed Miliband or JME posing with Jeremy Corbyn, each new election seems to herald a plea to younger voters to get themselves to the ballot box.
While the juxtaposition of Corbyn with the UK’s foremost grime artists is amusing, gimmicks such as these risk patronising younger voters. Given the importance of political representation we shouldn’t really need to resort to such tactics to galvanise the electorate.
Young people need to make sure their views and concerns are addressed by government. Registering to vote by midnight on May 22 and turning out to vote is the surest way of making this happen.
Number of people registering to vote
Turnout is generally far lower among younger generations than older ones with just 43 per cent of those aged 18-24 casting a vote in May 2015. Nationally the turnout was 66 per cent in 2015, rising to 78 per cent among those aged 65 and above.
While the gulf seems to have always existed, this disparity in propensity to vote is greater than it used to be.
Between 1918 and 1997 turnout at general elections in the UK was reliably greater than 70 per cent of the electorate. In 2001 this number fell off a cliff with just 59 per cent of people casting their ballots.
Turnout in UK elections since 1918
Since 2001 turnout has been steadily on the up again but turnout among younger people has been recovering at a slower rate compared to older generations.
According to figures from Ipsos Mori, there was a gap of 20 percentage points in turnout between the youngest and oldest voters. In 2015 the gulf was as high as 35 points.
This gap creates a vicious cycle in which the votes of younger people are worth less to politicians wishing to get elected and young people are less likely to vote because they feel politicians don’t speak to the issues that matter to them.
It would be wrong, however, to think that these youngsters don’t vote because they aren’t politically engaged. The turnout among the 18-24 age group at the EU referendum was 60 per cent, nearly 20 points higher than in the 2015 general election.
Young people are perfectly prepared to turn out, it would seem, if there is real sense that they can influence a vote that they care about.
Turnout by age group in UK elections
The UK’s First Past the Post voting system is unhelpful in this regard because it leads to a lot of constituencies in which the result is almost a foregone conclusion. This means it’s very unlikely that a higher youth turnout would be enough to reverse a landslide one way or another.
However, there are still around 40 constituencies where the ruling MP could be displaced if turnout among the 18-24 age group reached the same levels it did in the EU referendum.
A prime example of this is Derby North where the Conservatives beat Labour by a majority of just 41 votes in 2015. According to the ONS nearly 13,000 people aged 18-24 live in this constituency meaning that there would be an extra young 2,204 voters if turnout rose from 43 to 60 per cent – more than enough to swing it.
Similarly, Labour’s margin of victory in the City of Chester was just 93 votes in 2015. If turnout rose to 60 per cent among 16-24 year olds this would mean an extra 1,800 voters casting ballots.
Number of constituencies that could swing with a higher youth turnout
If a higher youth turnout decides the direction of seats like these then politicians will be forced to cater their offering towards younger audiences and the vicious cycle would become a virtuous one.
Young people would have more of an impact electorally and feel more able to influence things, thus encouraging more to participate.
With greater turnout comes greater influence. If turnout among the 18-24s reached 78 per cent – the same level as among those aged 65 and up – then there would be enough extra voters to overcome the majority in 76 constituencies.
These calculations rely on a couple of assumptions that means they shouldn’t be taken as 100 per cent accurate. Not every young person will register to vote – let alone turn out on the day – and they won’t all vote the same way.
However, the point still stands that younger people have the ability to influence politics and they should make sure they exercise it.
How to | Register to vote