The increased number of registered young voters brings hope, but are the number misleading?

With the general election set for December 12, it will be interesting to see what the outcome of the youth vote will be in the United Kingdom given the recent hype and efforts to engage young people in politics.

Over the last few years, young people have mobilized around different social and political campaigns, such as climate change and Brexit. Young people have made their voices heard and protested political leaders’ actions (or lack thereof) on these issues.

But will this energy also be displayed in the polls, or will young people remain at home on Election Day? 

More than 270,000 people under the age of 35 registered to vote in the first few days after the general election was announced. There were 425,000 voter registration applications over the course of three day leading up to October 31. The majority of voters that registered over those three days were young people, with more than half of the voter registration applications being from people under 35.  

In comparison, in 2017 during the three days after an election was called, there were only 296,000 new registrations, and 203,000 of those were from voters aged under 35. More young people have registered to vote in the first few days after the election was announced this year as opposed to 2017. The increase in the amount of young people that registered to vote could be a sign that more from this demographic will come out to vote in December. If they are registering now and getting prepared, this could translate into votes in a few weeks. 

On the other hand, younger people are more likely to register to vote when a general election is announced simply because they are less likely to be already registered. A younger person either has never registered to vote if they just turned 18, or they have just moved and changed their address and need to re-register. It is therefore unreliable to try and predict whether more or less young people will vote based on the amount that registered in the first few days after the general election was announced. 

In 2017 after the general election, media outlets announced that there was a ‘youthquake’ since the Conservatives lost their majority and Labour did better than expected. It was predicted that since Labour received more votes than anticipated, more young people must have voted, since young people typically vote Labour in larger majorities. There was also a rumour circulating on social media sites, such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, claiming that 72 per cent of people aged 18-25 voted. There is however no way to back this statement with statistics since the general election ballot is secret. The actual amount of young people that voted could not be confirmed, nor what they voted for. All the available data comes from opinion polls and exit polls after the election, which are not completely accurate.

The British Election Study is widely respected, and its data suggested that the amount of young people that voted in 2017 was not a quake. The study concluded that the turnout for young voters in 2017 was most likely between 40 and 50 per cent, which was about the same as the previous election in 2015.

So the December election may not signal a youthquake after all. For many young people this period of the year will be the end of the academic term, and they may not make it home in time to vote in their districts. Young people are allowed to vote in the districts in which they reside and study, but if they have exams or final papers to submit, they may not be thinking about voting. Colleges and universities also only have a few weeks to register new and returning students at their college address.

Although young people may not come out to vote in the large numbers anticipated, they should still be encouraged to get out there and cast their ballot. Organizations such as Vote For Your Future are working to get the highest ever youth turnout in a general election. Through advertisements and campaigns at schools across the country, students will see the importance of voting and be more inclined to do so. If young people understand that their voice matters, and that their vote will influence policy, they will be more likely to go out to vote.

It’s not long now until December 12 when we will be able to see if any of this has worked in getting the younger generation to be more engaged politically.

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