Development Intern, Ben Roberts on why young people should vote in the forthcoming election
‘Not another one!’ With the United Kingdom’s second general election in just two years around the corner, it’s easy to understand the British people’s faint annoyance at having to go out and vote again.
Election fatigue does pose a real danger to voter turnout this election, particularly amongst young people aged 18-24 who are historically the least likely demographic to cast their votes. Whilst it does seem like we have voted a lot these past few years, we must remember that democracy is, by its very nature, an ongoing process that requires regular participation.
The next parliament could well be sitting until 2022, so for young people to miss out on electing their representatives for the next five years would be a great shame, especially given the huge issues at stake this year.
The 2015 General Election was the first election I was able to vote in and as a second-year politics student the timing was perfect! But of course, I am fully aware that my interest in all things political was (and probably still is!) slightly atypical amongst my age group. The reality is that only 43% of 18-24 year olds voted in the 2015 election compared with 78% of the over-65s. Given the huge generational divide in voting that figures like this starkly illustrate, it is hardly surprising when policies are enacted that disproportionately hit young people the hardest- rising tuition fees, the axing of Educational Maintenance Allowances in England are good examples.
Here at the Sutton Trust, we work to combat educational inequality and influence government policy on social mobility through our programmes, research and advocacy on a daily basis. Our recent Mobility Manifesto sets out ten practical policy steps the next government could take to improve social mobility. But it cannot be only up to charities like ours to be involved in effecting change. The best way to tell Westminster what you want is to vote for it! A functioning democracy relies on people of all ages exercising their democratic rights; rights that people have died for and continue to fight for around the world. Rights that young people and people of all ages sadly too often take for granted.
Decisions are made by those that turn up and there is no real reason why young people can’t. We have seen a spike in youth voter registration rates since the election was announced by Theresa May a few weeks ago and the London School of Economics estimated that 64% of 18-24 years old cast their vote during last year’s EU Referendum. A similarly impressive 75% of 16 and 17-year-olds turned out to vote during the Scottish Independence Referendum of 2014.
Indeed, if political engagement was measured through retweets and Facebook likes, my generation would probably be recorded as one of the most politically engaged on record! I see my peers registering their discontent with various politicians, policies and ideologies literally every day on my Facebook newsfeed. The challenge therefore is for young people to translate this online political engagement into votes in the ballot box!
Strong youth turnout is by no means impossible in 2017 and it’s up to young people to make sure their voices are heard this election.