Did the 2017 General Election change our approach to young people in politics?
It seems that last week youth had a great influence in the outcome of the elections. Their turnout was firstly surprisingly high: Labour MP David Lammy claims it reached up to 72%, although a YouGov survey only puts it at 66%. With an overall turnout at 68%, it would mean that under 25s went out to vote in quite similar numbers to their older counterparts, which hasn’t been since since 1964.
There are no official figures for voting by age, but a long-running academic study, the British Election Study, provides reasonably consistent survey-based data for General Elections.
This surprise was definitely in favour of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who is very popular among young voters. Indeed, constituencies with higher proportions of young voters generally saw a large increase in Labour votes compared to 2015. According to polls by Lord Ashcroft and YouGov, at least two-thirds of under 25s’ votes went to Labour.
Corbyn’s ‘authentic’ character and very youth-appealing policies seem to have worked, and it looks like he has inspired and attracted the younger population into the polling stations.
But what about the under 18s? Those who weren’t eligible to vote were not asked what they thought last Thursday. It is true that even young adults have a hard time being represented in the country’s politics, so who would care to ask the under 18s?
Represent’s poll about lowering the voting age has however received more than 4,300 answers and over 60% of voters seem to agree or strongly agree on letting 16 and 17 year olds vote:
This is quite encouraging, it shows that people potentially care about young people’s opinion.
However, looking at the demographics, it seems that mostly under 25s voted, partly explaining this enthusiasm:
Even though over 35s also seem to have mostly voted in favour of letting old teens vote, they have not voted in big enough numbers for it to be representative.
It is also interesting to note that men tend to strongly disagree more than women in this poll, meaning they’re more sceptical in letting minors vote:
Note: Not all voters register their gender, this is why it does not include all voters.
But why is that? It is possible that men feel like they are already being well represented in politics and don’t believe giving more power to the youth will benefit them? Women, however, may relate to under-representation more, and therefore may be more empathic towards younger people’s cause. All this, however, is hypothetical.
Looking at the gender-neutral comments and reasons for people to vote either way, it is interesting to note that some people believe that politics is an ‘adult’s thing’ and that the young generation is often ‘ignorant’ and ‘selfish’ and therefore should not be granted the right to vote.
In her recent article, Times Columnist Clara Foges called people to challenge “the naive, unaffordable views” of under 25s and declared that treating young people like “political sages” is a grave mistake, as they are entitled and selfish. In BBC Radio 4’s recent ‘Moral Maze’ programme about generational voting, the panel was mostly unenthused and frankly patronising towards young people’s unprecedented turnout, often portraying them as ‘self-interested’, idealistic and pretty gullible.
It is true that under 25s aren’t more credible than any other adults. However, I personally disagree with the rest of these views and the labelling of millennials. Moreover, young adults are far from being considered ‘political sages’, they are simply listened to more than they used to, and going out to vote in bigger numbers. They’re entitled to do so even though they may have less experience. The accepted idea that the youth fell into the trap of the unrealistic and dishonest promises of the Labour leader, and that is why they went out to vote, is widely spread. They have made a statement last week and this should be taken into account anyways, and as one of the guests on Moral Maze’s programme said “Politics is fundamentally about competing interest” anyways.
So even if young people mostly had mostly gone out to vote only in their own interest, they’re technically not the first ones to do so. Hence it is wrong to stigmatise a whole generation for that reason.
Being almost 16, I also believe that older teenagers should be asked for their opinion, because the decisions taken today also impact their future. This may be by having the right to vote or by another system suited for minors, like Represent. The world we are going to work and live in is being modelled by today’s politicians and voters. I believe we are also aloud to have our say in our own way, and letting us vote would potentially be a step forward for democracy. However, we do have different rights and responsibilities within society, which puts us on a different level than over 18s. For instance, most of us are not economically active, and therefore maybe not entitled to have the same political right as over 18s.
Another problem is that young people often show disinterest in politics. Talking to friends who are around 16, I observe that many are not aware, misinformed or simply uninterested in the current political events. But who can blame them? No one teaches us about politics at school and from an outside point of view, it’s true that it is not a very appealing domain. Many politicians don’t try to connect with young people and very few adults make an effort for us to understand what’s happening. We’re rarely invited into politics. This is also why you can’t blame first-time voters to be uninformed. It is society’s shared responsibility to make sure young people are well-informed and curious.
Again, we can’t generalise. I also have friends who are extremely passionate about current issues, and would like to be heard about them. This may be refugees’ cause for example, valuing a vision of family within society, protecting biodiversity, the environment, even assuring gender equality. I think we should not be stereotyped and given ‘selfish’ or ‘ignorant’ labels, and like adults may often share very different views.
Furthermore, Undivided’s campaign has shown that many young people do have aspirations and demands for their country and their future after Brexit, even in our tense political climate. They also seem like they are quite aware of the current issues surrounding our departure from the EU, clearly disproving the thesis that young people just don’t know. Even though many aren’t eligible to vote yet, they show passion and motivation when it comes to their country’s issues, and often for issues that don’t concern them directly.
But where do political parties stand on votes for 16 and 17 year olds?
This table shows how much the main political parties agree on letting 16 and 17 year olds vote, and is part of a very detailed table with many other policies.
Then, if we compare the results of the question about lowering the voting age with how people answered to “What political party do you most closely associate with”, this is what we see:
Now here are the results by individual party, to see where people who associate with a particular party stand on 16 and 17 voting:
When only comparing the two main parties, a very clear difference is observed: 75% of people who associate with Labour believe that the voting age should be lowered, whereas 72% of Conservatives do not want the voting age to be lowered.
This difference is coherent, as when comparing these two parties in the table above, they strongly disagree: Conservatives strongly disagree and Labour strongly agree’ (deep red/deep green).
It is hard to speculate on the reason for this clear divergence, as there can be many reasons for voting either ways, many of which aren’t necessarily inherent to a specific political view.
Letting 16 and 17 year olds may not be the solution for democracy, but I believe we should continue encouraging anyone to go out and vote, instead of ridiculing their motives because of their age.