There’s a raft of stuff in the Guardian his morning about young people and voting. A big poll has been done on 17 – 22 year olds. Most of what comes out is roughly what you’d expect: this group is more pro-European, more liberal generally than those in older age groups. The stuff that is interesting is how high support for the Greens is – 19% versus 41% for Labour. About a quarter of people in this age bracket support the Tories.
There is one figure in amongst the rest that I highly doubt, not because I think there’s a fault in the methodology of the poll or that people were consciously lying. It is the one that says 77% of this group are going to turn up to vote next May. Because the likely turnout figure amongst those under twenty-two is almost certain to be half that figure at best.
It is notoriously difficult to poll turnout figures. This is because there’s an element of self-selection present; people who are willing to answer pollster questions about voting are almost certainly more likely to subsequently vote than those who do not participate in such things. So again, no blame to the pollster or the people participating – it’s just the way things are. This isn’t a purely British phenomenon either: across the democratic world, it is almost uniform that the younger you are, the less likely you are to vote. And vice versa, obviously, which is important to keep in mind.
Pensioners are listened to closely by all political parties. Particularly ones on the Right, although left wing parties ignore older voters at their peril. This is solely because of their likelihood to vote. Young people and their concerns are given much lower priority due to the inverse. You can say this is unfair, but this is a basic tenet of democracy – if you don’t vote, you have no say. And the system is specifically designed for those who speak to be listened to. Or at least, for those who don’t speak to be ignored.
This was the real reason why so many people got upset when Russell Brand implored people not to vote; those most likely to take up this advice were those least likely to vote already, and whose participation would at least in theory have brought about a country that was more in the mould of what Brand himself would wish for. More young people voting would make all of the main parties more liberal, I think, given what polls like the one today tell us.
But just pretending that seventy-seven percent of people under the age of twenty-two are going to vote in May will achieve nothing. How do we get young people to vote in greater numbers then? I have no idea, but at least facing up to the problem is the first step.