Seventy per cent of young people are now registered to vote, according to a report by vInspired, England’s leading youth volunteering charity. This is a rise of 14 per cent since the last General Election.

The total number of 18-24 year-olds registered to vote now makes up 11 per cent of the total registered electorate. If all 70 per cent of 18-24 year-olds who are registered do decide to vote on the 7th of May, the 2015 General Election could bring the largest youth turnout since 1964. Given the meagre 44 per cent of under 25s who voted in 2010, a strong turnout from the age group this year could prove to be a key development and have a significant impact on the result.

The report also suggests that the recent leaders’ TV debates could be a key reason for the surge in youth voter registration, which has increased by 1.4 million since January. Twenty-four per cent of those polled said the TV debates were the main reason they had decided to vote in the upcoming election. Other influences included family members (cited as the key reason by 23 per cent), friends (19 per cent) and media influence (18 per cent). Recent TV debates seem to have had a significant impact on the youth, engaging them in key issues and alerting them to the main policies of the major parties. Whilst TV debates run the risk of prioritising personality over policy, in this case they seem to have been positive in encouraging  young people to vote.

Other factors which may have contributed to the rise in youth registration include vInspired’s own campaign ‘Swing the Vote’, which has worked to encourage young people to engage in politics and use their vote to ensure politicians address their interests. The National Union of Students’ (NUS) #GenerationVote campaign has also urged young students in particular to vote, encouraging the spread of voter registration drives on university campuses across the country.

Moira Swinbank, the Chief Executive of vInspired, greeted the results of the report with optimism, commenting: ‘The increase in registration figures amongst under-25s gives us hope that young people are starting to recognise the value of their vote. We have always known that young people are not apathetic. They are hugely interested in the issues affecting our society. Our challenge has been to help them see that voting is a way to make a difference to the things they are so passionate about’.

Talking to young voters seems to confirm this hope. First-time voter Matt Wright, 22, commented: ‘I registered to vote because it’s a chance for me to have my say in how the country is run. Only by voting can we make the youth voice matter, make politicians shape policy towards us and determine the country’s and our own future’.

It appears that young people are beginning to recognise that the only way their interests will be addressed by politicians is if they make up a more significant proportion of the electorate. This could have a considerable impact on UK politics as priorities of young people typically differ from those of the general population. For example, a recent poll by the BBC found the NHS was the most important issue for UK voters. Yet vInspired found this issue only ranked fourth for young voters, below living costs, affordable housing and unemployment.

Nevertheless, the report also reveals some reasons for concern. A significant minority (16 per cent) were planning to vote but have subsequently decided to abstain. The main reason cited was a feeling that their views are not represented by any particularly party (38 per cent), followed by an inability to distinguish between political parties (23 per cent) and a lack of diversity amongst candidates (22 per cent). This suggests that TV debates have failed to solve growing disillusionment with the political establishment, particularly amongst the young, and have done little to overturn prevailing opinions that there is nothing to choose between the main parties. This is despite the inclusion of smaller parties, such as the Green Party, UKIP, Plaid Cymru and the SNP in recent TV debates.

The surge in voter registration amongst young people is certainly a positive development, which could help ensure their interests are better addressed by the politicians. It remains to be seen, however, how many of these voters will actually turn up at the ballots on the 7th of May and whether government will choose  to listen to their demands.

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