How politics is trying to crack the Millennial dome

by Rob Jennings

It is a simple fact of elections: young people vote less. Following the 2015 General Election, Ipsos Mori estimated that the turnout of people aged between 18-24 was a mere 43%, compared with 77% for their 55-64 year old counterparts.

Politicians often find themselves playing a game of supply and demand with their electorate. In simple terms, the more you (and those like you) show up on polling day, the more likely you are to collectively get what you want.

And so it follows that young people often don’t get what they want. Burned by a Tory landslide and Brexit majority in consecutive years, if there was a time for club 18-24 to be disenchanted with politics, it would be now.

The Electoral Reform Society captured this sentiment exactly in a statement issued on the 15th May, warning that young people faced nothing short of a ‘voter registration time bomb’ as a result of the number of school leavers registered to vote having dropped by more than a quarter since 2014.

Skip ahead one week, however, and the ‘bomb’ seems to have been defused.

According to the Independent, ‘More than 700,000 young people have registered to vote since the General Election was called’, with under 25s the most represented cohort on the Register to Vote Service.

So how has this happened?

As the election of Donald Trump proved, social media is king when it comes to reaching voters.

In the UK, 60% of us have a Facebook account. Over a quarter of those on Facebook are aged below 34 – a statistic that the Electoral Commission appears to have wised up to. In partnership with Facebook, a banner reminding users to register to vote appeared on the homepage of all UK users on the 13th May. The resulting spike saw 113k people applying to register to vote in a single day; the highest single day figure since the announcement of the election and nearly double that of the day before.

And Facebook were not alone in their championing of the cause, with Snapchat’s 10 million daily UK users having the option to overlay filters sharing their intention to register.
However, before we get carried away and begin rolling out the red carpet for Mr. Corbyn, it is important that we clarify two things: firstly, while voter registration applications are encouragingly high amongst 18-25s, the statistics ignore the fact that heady numbers like 700,000 seem significantly larger than older demographics for one simple reason – the majority of over 55s have already registered. Secondly – and perhaps more crucially for this analysis – registering to vote is one thing, actually turning up on the day is another entirely.

Of those who have already applied to vote, only slightly more than 40% of the younger cohort described themselves as ‘certain to vote’. This number rose to 64% in the case of older generations.

What is clear is that voters aged 18-25 are engaging in this election but who, if anyone, will they rally behind?

It is no surprise that the announcement of the Labour party’s intention to scrap tuition fees as early as Autumn 2017 has coincided with today’s deadline. Indeed with the continued championing of #Grime4Corbyn, it appears that Jeremy is more than happy to throw his lot in with what he hopes will be the children of his revolution.

Labour seems to have all the momentum when it comes to the younger vote, with the Lib Dem’s staunch anti-Brexit line and Theresa May’s underwhelming Instagram presence failing to cut through. But, contrary to a much shared millennial-mongering tweet claiming that the election could be swung if voting numbers among under 25s rose by 30%, the numbers simply don’t add up.

What young voters will have the opportunity to do on June 8th, however, is set an agenda for any incoming government, and indeed for elections to come. Mobilised by smarter and more streamlined digital outreach, a high turnout among 25s will render millennials foolish to ignore. It is a game of supply and demand, after all.

As history (Alan Hansen) has taught us, beware writing off the ‘kids’.