There is nothing so universally dividing than politics, it is something that everyone is affected by but most importantly is something that everyone can have an effect on as well, especially in the UK and its democracy. The majority of people do their part and vote on both general and local elections, but since the early 90’s the average turnout for general elections in the UK has declined and the biggest drop was between people aged 18-24. While young people have nearly always had a lower turnout than adults, the drop was at its worst in the 2005 general election where less than 40% of young people voted. The spread of turnout over the ages has widened and widened in previous elections and in 2015 there was around a 40% turnout difference between the biggest voting (55-64) and the least voting (18-24) age groups.
The 2017 election that Theresa May called was planned to make her position in parliament stronger which didn’t go to plan, 13 seats were lost and a deal with the DUP had to be formed to create a government. In that case there must be some link between this, the fact that the election had the highest turnout of young people since 1992 and that the vast majority of young voters voted for left wing parties. Are young people starting to make an impact again and is it being heard by the government?
There’s three things that may sway a young person’s interest in politics either way and these are the voting age, the digestibility and accessibility of politics and finally the stereotypical persona that a politician may or may not fall into.
The official age of being an adult citizen is 18 and this is the age that people are considered to be fully independent with their opinions, thoughts and personalities but the age restricted laws are less clear. At 16 you can leave home, get married, drive a moped and legally change your name, but you cannot buy alcohol, tobacco, or most importantly vote. Yet, this could all change as talks regarding the voting age being lowered to 16 have taken place and the new law could come into effect before the next general election. When people were asked on an online poll whether the voting age should be 16, 72% said it shouldn’t, many of the responses to why this was the case revolved around people not feeling ready to vote and that those 2 years are vital for maturity in current affairs and political issues. Ever since 1970 the voting age for the UK has been 18, before that it was 21 and prior to 1970 the way you voted as a young person was heavily influenced on the way that your parents voted. Jean Tew was a young voter during the 21 year limit and said “I voted conservative because my parents voted conservative…It was unheard of or very rare to go against the political views of your parents as they would just kick you out”. Jean was one of many young people across the UK that was essentially a second vote on their parent’s behalf, this could be a reason why young people weren’t heard as much. Parents would vote for what benefited them and their children would have to oblige and do the same, almost like hitting the mute button on young people’s political opinions. Jean also added that she never felt like she was “missing out” from voting at 18 as “that was the age it always was, no one wishes to drive at 14 because they knew they had to be 17 from the get go”. While the lowering of the UK voting age is heavily debatable, the fact that it is now acceptable to have a different political opinion to your family has made the younger generations much more vocal on their views and their beliefs. Many people will argue for and against the views, but the fact they can comfortably and happily have these views is not only a huge step in equal democracy, but also strengthens the idea that this “youthquake” does actually exist.
On the 15th May 2000, a report was published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation titled “Political interest and engagement among young people” which shed some light onto why politics just wasn’t that interesting for people between 14-24 at the turn of the millennia. Key points they uncovered were the feeling of “powerlessness and inaccessibility” the felt towards politics. What stood out the most was “young people’s lack of knowledge and understanding about politics, and the difficulties they perceived in trying to grasp such a ‘complex’ and ‘dull’ subject”. This in turn meant that because they saw the issues as dull or not exciting, young people would often not seek political knowledge or understanding and therefore feel even more alienated from it all.
So what has changed over the past 15 years causing more and more young people to speak out their opinions on policies, MPs and political parties? When asked, the MP for Cheltenham, Alex Chalk, felt “Donald Trump being elected and Brexit” were monumental turning points in not just UK politics but worldwide politics as well. The fact that young people are now concerned about the leader of a country they do not even live in is strong evidence for a turning tide in the world of governments. Ella Porter, a young voter from Sussex, thought that the last General Election was “really interesting with Corbyn targeting youths” and definitely feels that politicians are getting better at communicating with the younger generation. People are starting to realise that because their lack of input to politicians over the years, legislation and policies have been potentially unfair and dismissive to the younger population of this country and they are not happy about it.
The EU referendum was one of the most polarising votes that the UK has seen regarding age and political standing. This graph shows just how different the results are as 71% of people ages 18-24 voted to remain whereas 64% of those ages 65 and over voted to leave. For many young people this was the big turning point for their interest in politics, they saw no reason to leave the EU and because the younger generations appear to be overall more culturally accepting, didn’t see immigration (The leave campaign’s biggest point) as that much of an issue. The accessibility of politics used to be the big reason why young people never voted, but now the digital age of social media, news gets round in a faster and easier to digest format. Parliament can seem alien to some, a world that they will never see the inside of, but is also a world which decides the majority of aspects in their life. Ella believes that politics should be mandatory in schools as a way to help give young people the understanding they need to make their own decisions about issues and to increase their turnout even further. While the 2000’s may have been a dark time for young people and politics, this could all start to change. The lack of accessibility in politics for young people has turned misrepresentation of this demographic into frustration, that frustration has caused them to gain the knowledge and understanding themselves and speak out about relevant issues and to vote in higher numbers, and in turn this could cause the “youthquake”.
Ella goes on to believe that the average age of MPs (50) is too high and that it would be a very good idea “to have more young people in Parliament. It’s easier to address young people when you’re young yourself.”. The persona and stereotype that comes along with being a politician can almost be just as frustrating as politics itself. The recent MP expenses scandal has really damaged a lot of trust in what young people think of politicians. Many see them as having a lack of transparency, compassion and real world experiences which makes their decision making counter intuitive for normal working people at the end of the ladder.
As you can see by these charts not only are politicians the least trusted profession, but that trust has also dropped massively since the 2009 recession and has shown no signs of improvement. Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn has tried to not only simplify politics, but is also breaking the young person’s stereotype of a politician. This is one of the main reasons that Corbyn was so successful at targeting the younger age and why Labour now has a huge young following. The character that an MP has appears to be a big factor for people aged 18-24. Corbyn has shown how to get young people both engaged and interested in politics which is something that hasn’t been seen for a long time.
So is the “youthquake” actually real? The fluctuation in young people’s turnout and political understanding may not be enough to make a change right away, but it is definitely enough to remind the government that this demographic exists and is affected by every decision they make. The fact that young people are starting to rise against what they believe is wrong is definitely beneficial, but this would be beneficial for any generation. The key point here is that people aged 18-24 are the next generation and will have to live with the decisions made. Young people are thinking about their future more and more, while parties target younger people more and more. While this demographic may not be their most loyal or biggest group supporters, they are future supporters and the fact that even an idea of a “youthquake” is spoken about means that they are making an impact.