Carl Sacklen     Freelance Portfolio     Blog

Young People Can Use the EU Referendum to Show They're a Force to Be Reckoned With

If you’re young and reading this, there’s a one in two chance you’ll make the effort to vote in the upcoming EU referendum. If you’re slightly older, those odds shoot up to 81%. Youth participation in politics is in a dire state; 58% of young people turned up to vote in the 2015 general election. A young person myself, this voter apathy among us is worrying, especially considering it’s our future on the ballot paper of the EU referendum.

Nicky Morgan said Brexit would be damaging to young people’s chances in life, and she’s right. Whilst this is not another piece telling you what makes the EU so good for young people, it is important to note that the EU grants young people access to an array of jobs, education opportunities and lower prices. This is undoubtedly why in a recent poll by Opinum, 53% of young people want to remain in the EU, whilst 29% want to leave. Contrast this to the results of those over 55 years and it is clear what a big role young people have the potential to play in the referendum. Of the older generation in the poll, 30% said they wanted to remain whilst 54% said leave.

Even more shocking is the likely participation rates in the referendum. 81% of those 55 and over will turn up to vote, whilst a mere 52% of young people say they will definitely turn up to vote. Both sides are pretty much neck and neck, with the Leave camp inches ahead of the Remain team in a recent poll. Looking at these numbers it is clear that young people will be the deciding factor in the referendum and have the ability to deliver a crushing blow to the ‘outers’. The Remain campaign obviously know this, otherwise they wouldn’t have tried to court the youth vote with the, admittedly disastrous, “#Votin” video. Whilst it was quite patronising and made the political elite look even more out of touch, it’s message of getting out to vote for the sake of young people’s futures was clear and correct.

So why is it that young people tend to be so much more apathetic than their older counterparts? Lack of policies that target young people is central however is it this that causes the lacklustre participation of young people or is it an effect of low participation? The more likely reason is that young people see the Commons, and on the green benches they see older adults, mostly men, bickering and shouting. This is not relatable or appealing to young people, so they disregard the whole concept of politics. As a result, their turnout in elections is low and hence politicians have less of an incentive to address young people’s issues in their campaigns. It then becomes a vicious circle since young people then see the politicians, who now clearly have little interest in young people’s problems, as even more out of touch and even less worth voting for. As for the low predicted turnout amongst young people in the referendum specifically, this is likely also because the campaigns have been dominated by the personalities of the pale, stale male and the focus on young people’s issues has been minimal.

You’ll have to excuse the dramatic tone, but this is essentially a call to battle for young people. With Britain on the verge of potentially leaving the EU, and such a clear preference among young people to remain in the EU, it is vital for young people to emerge with might come polling day not only to protect our own futures, but to prove to the political elite that young people can have a significant impact on politics and are a force to be reckoned with in future elections. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, so let’s not allow it to slip though our fingers.