Less than one year after voting for Brexit, once again the UK finds itself trying to make sense of a shocking decision by the British electorate that almost nobody (with a couple of notable exceptions – take a bow YouGov and Survation) predicted. Dr Stuart Fox considers the role of the youth vote in the election result.
After calling an election with a colossal lead in the opinion polls, Theresa May has seen the Conservative majority she inherited wiped out following a disastrous campaign and a remarkable surge in Labour support. The blame game has already started, and many (including Tory MPs) are already pointing their fingers firmly at the young, suggesting that they turned out in unprecedented numbers to support Jeremy Corbyn and – in the words of Owen Jones – to ‘change history’.
We have known for some time that if the young voted, they would most likely overwhelmingly endorse Labour – everything hinged on whether enough of them would actually go to a polling station for this to make a difference.
At this point, it is all but impossible to get a reliable estimate of just how many young people voted – but we can make an informed guess by piecing together what little evidence we do have.
First of all, turnout – at 69%, it is 2-points higher than in 2015 (though lower than in the EU Referendum), and the highest seen in any general election since 1997. This suggests that there were more young people (though not only young people) voting yesterday than in recent elections.
There are also several estimates based on surveys and opinion polls. They tell quite a mixed story, but all are pointing towards an increased youth vote: Sky Data is rumoured to be estimating a turnout of 72% amongs 18/24 year olds, while NME ran an ‘exit poll’ predicting that 53% of 18/34 year olds voted, and YouGov’s final poll reported that 63% of 18/24 year olds were ‘certain to vote’ in the election.
Figures like this must always be treated with scepticism, as opinion polls always over-estimate turnout. Nonetheless, they compare with a reported turnout of 43% among 18/24 year olds in 2015 according to the British Election Study.
Finally, we can look at YouGov data since the EU Referendum to get an impression of how the intention to vote of the young has changed over time.
The graph below shows the proportion of 18-24 year olds, and the over 25s, who said they were ‘certain to vote’ in an election. There was barely any change following the referendum, even despite young people’s well-known hostility to Brexit, but after the election campaign began in April there was a clear steady increase in the proportion of the under-25s saying they will vote.
Moreover, this increase mirrors that of youth support for Labour. We cannot prove a link between the two with this data, but it is certainly possible that Labour’s election campaign not only won over even more young supporters, but actually persuaded a significant number of them who may not have planned to vote previous to turn out as well.
It is still very much early days, and any individual estimate of turnout must be treated with extreme caution. Nonetheless, the evidence we have suggests that 2017 has indeed seen a substantial boost in youth political engagement, which has resulted in a boost in the youth vote. We will be more confident about this, and able to explore its causes, once we have more reliable and detailed data.
This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Welsh Brexit blog, nor Cardiff University.
Dr Stuart Fox is a Quantitative Research Associate in the School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University.