By the time this piece goes live, the polls will be perilously close to opening. Writing about the need for people to vote so close to the election might seem pointless. By now it might be that everybody that’s going to vote already knows who they’re voting for, and everybody who isn’t voting can’t be convinced to go and cast their ballot.
This election though seems to have something different about it; something I’m sure has been written about every election for as long as people have been writing about elections. The “youth vote” seems to have become a centrepiece not just of some of Labour’s campaign, but also on the way the wind blows for Theresa May’s majority.
It has been written that if the difference between young and old voters mirrors the 2015 election, the Conservatives could “win a majority of more than 100 seats.” In the last general election, “only around four in 10 [people aged 18-24] voted, compared with more than three-quarters of people aged 55 and above.” It is a truth universally acknowledged that older people are more likely not only to vote Conservative, but to vote at all.
Since 2005, youth turnout has “hovered around the 40% mark” in general election, dipping to below 20% in local and European elections. Courting the youth vote seems to be a difficult thing, possible “a problem of communication,” with old politicians not knowing how to get their messages across to those a generation or two removed from themselves.
Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, seems to be trying to reach out to the youth vote in a seemingly direct way, through what could admittedly quite clumsily be called “youth culture.” Corbyn has had conversations with grime artists, and, like Tony Blair before him, appeared on the cover of NME. A survey done by NME tracking voting intention showed that 41% of 18-34-year-olds plan to vote Labour.
A few days before the deadline passed to register to vote, almost 58,000 people under 25 registered to vote. Registering to vote is one thing though, and actually, voting is another.
In his conversation with JME, Corbyn argues that one of the reasons that young people don’t vote is that they might see governments and politicians as being “out of touch.” Whether or not Corbyn diving in with both feet into youth culture is out of touch or not is something that only time will tell.
But still, for now, Corbyn seems to have captured something, seems to have lit a fire underneath young voters, even though for Labour to succeed, there will need to be “an army of […] left-wing, politically engaged twentysomethings committed to voting.”
It’s been argued that candidates across the Atlantic, like Obama and Trudeau, managed to inspire youth turnout through “a positive political narrative about the future.” This is something Corbyn himself is trying to do, with his NME cover story saying, simply enough, “we offer hope.”
This message of hope might be cutting through. A recent poll found that that “63 percent of 18-24-year-olds said they were ‘absolutely certain’ to vote,” and that two-thirds of that number would be voting Labour. The question is if this will hold true on the day. Election campaigns are long, draining things even when you’re only watching them from the outside. It’s all too easy on the day to think, in spite of your intentions before, that it just isn’t worth it. That your vote won’t matter, and that all the parties are the same.
This is an election where, if nothing else, the latter part of that statement isn’t true. The main two parties (and the only two worth taking seriously during in an election) are opposed on a wealth of issues, from taxes to schools. These things are fundamentally important, and it’s easy to see why this election, with a strong focus from Labour on education, including the abolition of university tuition fees, has struck something of a chord with younger voters. Say what you will for the merits of it as a policy, abolishing fees has generated news and attention from a demographic that normally see little of or for themselves in a party manifesto. Fees alone won’t be enough to make people go to the ballot box, but they might have been enough to get people looking beyond that, and hopefully, using their vote.
I don’t know what a strong youth turnout will do to the outcome of this election. But a low youth turnout, one that follows past elections, and historic voting trends means a Conservative majority stretching into triple digits.
It’s easy to be disillusioned by politics and politicians, and possible even easy to be disillusioned by this piece. After all, what do I know?
I know that no vote is wasted. That’s a difficult thought to process sometimes, between the electoral system itself, and watching the results come in and wondering what the point of voting was if things don’t go the way that you hope. There it is again: hope. Hope and desire for change is one of the things that’s been driving Labour’s campaign and, seemingly, driving what might be a spike in youth turnout once the polls open. No matter how true you might think it is that “in politics, the young are nowhere near the front of the queue,” the young are still in the queue, and still, have a right for their voices to be heard when they cast their ballots. Not voting isn’t an act of protest, it’s an act of willful silence. And no protest has ever been silent. If you want to protest, the best, the only way to do that, is to go and cast your vote, on a day unlike any other, when everybody gets together with the chance to overthrow the government.