Young voters could be crucial at the 2015 general election, argues Demos

David Kingman reports on a new survey from the think tank Demos which argues that attracting young voters might be crucial to the major parties’ hopes of victory in Mayyour vote counts, democracy concept

Attracting the votes of younger members of the electorate who have not yet decided which party they are going to vote for could be the key to winning the 2015 general election in May, according to a new report from the think tank Demos.

Three million voters?

The report, entitled Tune In, Turn Out, argues that there could be as many as 3 million people aged 18–25 who have not yet decided how they are going to cast their votes. This figure is based on polling conducted by Populus, who surveyed over 1,000 members of this age group.

The results revealed some interesting insights into the political preferences of young people in the UK today. Remarkably, over three-quarters (77%) of those surveyed said that they intended to vote in the next general election. If it came to pass, this would represent an enormous increase on the level of turnout among this age group at the last general election in 2010, when just 44% of them voted.

Interestingly, there was also a strong gender divide when it came to young peoples’ interest in politics: just 30% of young women said they follow politics closely, compared with 48% of young men.

People who participated in the survey were also asked to say which political issues they were most concerned about. Overall, 69% named the cost of living as a key issue, while 62% said affordable housing, 58% mentioned unemployment and an identical number said the NHS.

Although you would expect all of these issues to matter to people across the age spectrum, it was also interesting that exactly half of the respondents highlighted online privacy as an important issue, as this is a matter which probably has greater salience to this cohort than it would to older members of the electorate. Conversely, just 43% mentioned immigration and 34% talked about Britain’s future in the EU, when these are both concerns which have a stronger association with older voters.

What would make young people more likely to vote?

As mentioned above, given that people aged 18–25 had the lowest level of turnout of any age group at the last general election, it is also interesting to see what young people had to say when they were asked what factors would make them more likely to vote in future.

The results suggest that the profile of the people whom they perceive as being involved in politics matters a great deal to younger voters: 56% said they would be more likely to vote if there were more working-class MPs or candidates, while almost a third (31%) said more women MPs or candidates would have the same effect.

Overall, these results certainly give the impression that there is a strong degree of disconnect between the issues that young people are concerned about and the type of politicians they would be happy to vote for on the one hand, and the reality of politics in modern Britain on the other. Of course, part of the beauty of democracy is that no one group can get everything it wants out of the system, but whether politicians are flexible enough to pay more attention to young peoples’ concerns remains to be seen.

If they can, then a huge number of votes is potentially in play. As Jonathan Birdwell, one of the report’s authors and the head of political participation at Demos, said in remarks that were quoted by the BBC:

“Our research shows that there are up to three million young voters who are up for grabs in next year’s election. The political party that can tap into this pool may just win the keys to Downing Street. Young people are currently turned off voting because politicians aren’t offering them credible, positive policies that address the issues they’re most concerned about. But the further challenge for politicians is to communicate these policies to young people in the spaces where they congregate, and in jargon-free language they understand. Social media must be central to voting outreach.”