Are millennials changing the face of British politics due to the excitement created by the Labour Party in the 2017 general election? James Sloam, Rakib Ehsan and Matt Henn have set out to answer this question in their research paper titled ‘Youthquake’: How and Why Young People Reshaped the Political Landscape in 2017.

Here they set out the reasons as to why they feel young people made a difference and how the ‘youthquake’ took shape.

What does the term ‘youthquake mean’?

Youthquake has been used to explain how young people voted in the last general election and how they became popular through their message. The term also became 2017’s ‘word of the year’ by the Oxford English Dictionary as young people realised that they needed to shout louder to be heard.

After some years of austerity and being fed up with a political atmosphere and individuals who ignored them, the 18-24 age group wanted to be the game changers. Though critics do not think much of this so-called youth revolution, what the writers do want to make clear is that this generation of young people were engaging in politics in a way that they have not done before.

Could this be due to policies and certain factors that changed compared to previous elections?

Changing trends

2017 was an interesting year, starting with the debates and confusion over Brexit and where young people stand now that we have to leave the EU. Before and after the EU Referendum, it was clear that a high percentage of young people did not want to leave.

Furthermore, class used to be a key factor in the outcome of general elections. If you were from an upper to middle-class background, then you were likely to vote for the Conservatives, but if you came from a lower middle-class or working-class background then you were expected to side with the Labour Party. This however is no longer the case when younger voters are involved.

The writers of youthquake show data that helps explain this.

Ipsos MORI Data shows that:
  • 62 per cent of 18-24-year-olds voted for the Labour Party, in contrast with the 27 per cent that voted for the Conservatives.
  • In previous years, such as in 2015, the data shows something quite different. That year, 18-24-year-olds sided with Labour over the Conservatives by only a margin of 42 per cent to 28 per cent.
  • 2010 saw Cleggmania, but back then both Labour and the Conservatives were locked together — the Lib Dems though were at around 30 per cent.

When it comes to policies, it is understandable how age is now a key factor. Even though the last general election was seen as the ‘Brexit Election’, all political parties made sure that they focused on home policies. Healthcare was seen as an extremely important issue, with 27 per cent of the 18-24 age group placing this on their agenda — possibly because of mental issues being on the rise. The second key issue was the EU, with 15 per cent placing this as an integral concern. Thirdly, education was another important policy area that could determine voting; 10 per cent placed this as their key issue.

The policies that young people prioritised are a direct consequence of them feeling let down by many years of Conservative austerity measures.

Social media

Social media was a vital tool to influence people in the general election — it was especially important for Corbyn’s camp to hook, line, and sinker the younger voters. Labour established a good relationship with them from grassroots campaigning via Facebook, Twitter, and other sites.

Sloam, Ehsan and Henn had researched how political parties used social media pages to their advantage. Labour’s success was explained thus:

boosted by his celebrity endorsements and the emergence of left-leaning, online news platform (such as The Canary), Jeremy Corbyn achieved about three times as many Facebook likes (1.4 million) and Twitter followers (1.42 million) as Theresa May’.

Momentum truly helped their appeal, as it was not a party anymore, but a MOVEMENT!

Where do we go from here?

Furlong (2016) has questioned what constitutes a young person. She says: ‘young people’s transitions from youth to adulthood have become delayed and staggered in modern societies’. Sloam, Ehsan and Henn have taken this into account, which is why they have called those in the 18-24 age group ‘younger citizens’ instead of ‘young citizens’, because they may still be living at home and relying financially on their parents/guardians.

So how did younger citizens change the 2017 election and where do we go from here?

As mentioned, austerity measures have caused anger amongst this generation, which is why they are more left- leaning. According to the writers, this was evident following the Brexit vote where support for Remain was stronger amongst highly educated female citizens who respect cultural diversity.

Sloam, Ehsan and Henn insist throughout their paper that academics, politicians and experts must not be complacent about ‘younger citizens’ becoming more active in politics. Politicians from all spectrums, especially the government, should be more engaging and take a leaf out of the Labour Party’s recent example. After all, as a result of their efforts the Tories failed to get a majority!

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