Live or Let Die? 3 ways the young could influence the Coalition’s future

(C)impawards.com

By Devon-Jane Airey

After David Cameron’s decision to cut housing benefits for under 25’s, his overseeing of the closure of EMA, the tripling of tuition fees and youth unemployment still over one million (not to mention Connexion services and the Future Jobs Fund scrapped) , it’s been reasonable to ask what exactly the government has against us young folk. Though, more pressingly, what the young folk can have against the government. I was reading an interesting piece of research this morning that touched upon this subject and so I did a bit of poking around to see how and in what areas the youth have the upper hand.

(1). Young people are often heavily influential in electoral steering points. Youth flocked in their thousands to support Thatcher in 1979 but, with the same merciless hand, were one of the largest groups to distance themselves from the ‘Iron Lady’ when austerity became a sickening cry. What’s more, it was the younger generation of Britain’s electorate that aided Tony Blair to his landslide victory in 1997 – with a remarkable 49% voting for the first ‘New Labour’ leader. However, this figure dropped to a mere 30% when Labour lost power in 2010. In that sense, efforts to secure the youth vote in today’s political climate aren’t solely directed towards the right: research by the Electoral Commission shows that both party leaders will have to work hard to secure this potentially tight grip on electoral victory. Indeed, apparently young people make up one of the biggest groups of unregistered voters and with the aforementioned cuts, the government have the potential to see this group expand even more. Labour’s proposals, therefore, of a mooted voter registration drive could well be a strategic move against their Conservative opponents. But there’s a moral advantage too: if you demonstrate a need to protect and enhance the voice of a certain demographic, they’re more likely to vote for you.

(2) Parties associated with a group’s enfranchisement are also a valued way of gaining a certain group’s vote. Migrant communities and their electoral loyalty towards the Labour party since the party secured their voting rights are a case in point. And, with the debate on reducing the voting age to 16 wedged within political woodwork, this could well be a band wagon party officials searching for a ‘youthful edge’ may want to jump on. There is, however, an element of risk that comes with focusing campaigns on the younger generation as statistics show the older you are, the more reliable you are to turn up to the polling station. In fact the Guardian ICM poll shows that on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being certain to vote, 18-24s score an average of less than 6, compared to over 65s who score 8.6. But with previous examples of their serious clout when rallied to turn out en masse ever present, there perhaps needs to be a more concerted effort to replace political fatigue and disillusion with political enthuse. A job for the politicians, not the people.

(3) Finally, and what is perhaps most telling, is that since the 1970s victorious parties in the general elections have always secured at least a third of the youth vote. Indeed, 42% of 18-25 year olds voted for Maggie T when she mounted her campaign to gain No. 10. The interesting exception for the Conservative party is David Cameron who secured only 30% of the youth vote in 2010. Youth representation in parliament that year, however, rose sharply due to the Lib Dems who have the lowest average age of supporter.  That said, the Lib Dems’ political forecast amongst the young folk in 2012 is, at best, patchy. Interestingly, in a month before the general election some 48% of 18-25’s were prepared to vote Lib Dem. Two years later and that figure has dropped 7 percentage points. Indeed, the Lib Dems’s decisions in office and their subsequent relationship with the younger generation has been compared to that of being dumped by your first love: a painful experience that can burn rather deep. Gaining back such trust, therefore, proves rather difficult.

So with the Lib Dem favourite out of the running, the Conservatives increasingly antagonising the young and Labour clinging loosely onto unstable proposals, it looks like the potentially valuable youth vote is there for the taking…

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