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Five go to the voting booth

Clare Bryden has been the TEDxExeter Storyteller since the beginning, mainly blogging articles inspired by each year’s theme, and then live-blogging from the back of the theatre during the event itself. Now she’s starting a new series of things that interest her which have a TED or TEDx angle. These might be her responses to watching TED and TEDx talks, or interesting things that TED and TEDx talks could shed some light on…

First up, Brexit and young people. This is a reworking of a post on Clare’s own blog, where you can also find the data behind the graphs.

 

In the fall-out from the EU Referendum, one particular graph has been much-shown and commented upon. It’s the graph of how three-quarters of young people polled said they would vote Remain, and used as evidence for how they have been sold out by older people voting Leave.

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But the graph doesn’t necessarily show the whole story. It doesn’t account for turnout, and Sky’s final poll says only about a third of people aged 18-24 may have voted.

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If that was the case, the votes for Remain as a percentage of eligible voters could actually have been the lowest in the 18-24 age group.

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Now, polls in advance of votes don’t always give an accurate picture. In general elections, the exit polls are generally much closer to the eventual outcome. But in yet another missed opportunity, there were no exit polls at the Referendum, the argument being that they could only usefully be compared to previous votes. And yet surely they would have given us much better information about who was voting and why?

Interestingly, this LSE survey of the ‘inside mind of the voter’ suggests a MUCH higher turnout among young people: “Young people cared and voted in very large numbers. We found turnout was very close to the national average, and much higher than in general and local elections. After correcting for over-reporting [people always say they vote more than they do], we found that the likely turnout of 18- to 24-year-olds was 70% – just 2.5% below the national average – and 67% for 25- to 29-year-olds.”

Between 1964 and 2010, turnout in general elections among young people was much lower than the national average. In his talk at TEDxHousesofParliament in 2014, Rick Edwards asked why, and suggested five solutions to get more young people to vote: introduce online voting; make it compulsory for first-time voters to vote; add a ‘none of the above’ option; improve information about parties’ policy positions; celebrate young people who have stood for and won office as role models.

What happened in the 2015 General Election? Well, although polls of voting intention suggested turnout among young people was as low as in the past, as with the Referendum, subsequent study indicates it may well have been much higher and close to the national average.

We can’t get complacent, though, and ideas like Rick Edwards’ need to be explored. The LSE survey also suggests that young people were extremely engaged in the Referendum, and reacted very strongly to the result. So it could boost political engagement and turnout. But equally it could further discourage young people if they feel their vote doesn’t make a difference or their voices are not heard.

Clare Bryden