Today’s blog post is a guest one by my new colleague, Dr Stuart Fox. You can contact Stuart on FoxS8@cardiff.ac.uk, and follow him on Twitter @
It has become common place for opposition parties in the UK to devote more and more resources to courting the ‘youth vote’. This is usually done by developing distinctive policies which (they believe, or hope) will appeal to the young, and then highlighting them through ‘youth manifestos’ and appearances on outlets such as Russell Brand’s YouTube channel. It is also common for parties to make the support of young people a key feature of their plans for electoral success; Nigel Farage, Natalie Bennett, Leanne Wood and Jeremy Corbyn have all repeatedly stated their view that they want to ‘engage young people with politics’ – and by doing so, presumably get them to support their party.
The 2016 Assembly election is no different. Plaid Cymru have once again emphasised their desire to lower the voting age to sixteen, as well as plans to take action on high rents and boost wages – through media such as the Internet, social media, and Leanne Wood appearing on Newsbeat. Labour (which also wants to reduce the voting age) is similarly emphasising its success in reducing youth unemployment, while the Lib Dems are promoting their role in securing changes to the ‘Pupil Premium’ and Young Persons’ Bus Passes in the recent budget.
The key assumption behind these strategies is that young voters are somehow different from the wider electorate, to such an extent that distinctive campaigns and policies have to be developed to attract their support. Using data from the latest Welsh Political Barometer poll, we can examine the extent to which Welsh young people are actually different from their elders, and so the extent to which this approach of distinctive campaigning is justified. The table below shows the most important issues identified by the over 30s and 18-30 year olds in the survey, as well as the ranking of those issues for the two groups.
Straight away we see that there is little evidence of a distinctive agenda among Welsh young voters. The top three issues for the over 30s are immigration (with two thirds identifying it as a key issue) followed by health (46%) and the economy (41%). The top issue for the 18-30 year olds is healthcare, identified as important by just over half, followed by immigration (38%) and the economy (34%). Slight differences appear if we look further down the pecking order. Education, for example, is the 4th most commonly cited issue for the 18-30 year olds, identified as important by just over one in five. It only ranks 10th in the list for the over 30s, however. Similarly, pensions makes 7th in the list of priorities for the over 30s, but (unsurprisingly) is far less prominent a concern for the 18-30s. These small differences are not, however, indicative of a fundamentally different policy agenda. The fundamental issues at the centre of voters’ concerns are the same for both age groups.
Most Important Issues: 18-30s vs. 30+
|Over 30s||Over 30s Rank||18-30||18-30 Rank|
|Power for Wales||5%||12||8%||11|
|Family & Childcare||4%||13||6%||12|
We can also look at party support. If there is a distinctive agenda among young voters, we would expect to see them supporting different political parties – who are reacting to that agenda – from their elders. Constituency and regional list party support data from the recent poll is presented in the table below, with voters split into four age groups: the 18-30s, 31-45, 46-60, and over 60s. We need to be cautious about such comparisons: we have fairly small numbers of respondents in each sub-group, while the poll is weighted for representativeness of the overall sample, not individual sub-groups. Nonetheless, and as discussed in previous posts, Labour are comfortably in the lead, followed by the Conservatives, and then Plaid Cymru and UKIP fighting for third place. The preferences of young voters are generally very similar to the wider electorate: the most popular party by some margin is Labour, with 32% support for constituency vote and 31% for the regional list. In second place for constituency support is the Conservatives, with 26%, followed by Plaid Cymru on 19%. For the regional list, the positions are reversed (though the differences are negligible); Plaid Cymru are the second most popular among the young with 21% support, followed by the Conservatives on 20%. There is no evidence that young people are reaching out in droves to alternative political parties promoting a distinctive agenda.
As with political issues, some small yet interesting differences emerge if we look below the headline figures. The Lib Dems look set to continue their woeful fall from grace, with just 5% support in the constituency poll and 4% in the regional poll. Among the 18-30s, however, the Lib Dems have 9% support in the constituency poll, though there is little difference for the regional list. Within the context of overwhelming unpopularity, the Lib Dems appear to at least be doing something right for around one in ten Welsh young people – at least enough to potentially secure their constituency votes. Another interesting difference is for UKIP. Generally, the support for the Conservatives, Labour, the Lib Dems and Plaid Cymru is similar for the constituency and regional list questions, and for the over 30s this is true of UKIP as well. For the 18-30s, however, UKIP’s support rises from 14% in the constituency poll to 19% in the regional list, putting their support for the party on a par with middle aged and older voters. For a party that has traditionally attracted little support among the young, this is a surprising trend, and one which may help explain UKIP’s rising regional list support.
Vote Choice by Age Group
The notion that Welsh young people are a distinct constituency of voters, therefore, which need to be courted through specific manifestos and unique policy platforms, is largely mythical. Young people are like their elders in reacting to the dominant political issues of the day and supporting parties which they feel are best placed to deal with them. For the majority of young people ahead of the Assembly elections, that means being concerned with immigration, healthcare, and the economy. The one area in which the young do stand out is the all too familiar issue of turnout. When asked on a scale from 0-10 how likely they are to vote in the May elections, 61% of over 30s say they are certain to vote, compared with just under half of 18-30 year olds. In addition, almost one in ten of the latter have no intention of voting. It isn’t issues or party preferences that most differentiates young people from their elders – it is the reluctance on their part to do anything about those issues at the ballot box.