The evidence shows that some common assumptions about their voting behaviour are fraught with perilby Bobby Duffy / June 2, 2017 / Leave a comment
One of the most discussed aspects of this general election campaign has been the way the young vote. How are they likely to cast their ballots? Will as many vote as say they will? What does this mean for the outcome on 8th June? Underlying these specific questions are fundamental questions about voter behaviour. Here, we’ve gotten stuck into the data to identify the key trends.
Generational differences are increasingly seen as a key political divide. There have been stark age gaps in each of the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, the 2015 election general election, and most notably in the EU referendum. Together, these create a sense that the real chasm in British politics is now between young and old.
And it’s proving the same for the 2017 election, as the chart below shows: support for the Conservatives doubles from young to old, and halves for Labour.
And it’s not just on party support that the generations seem polarised—it’s also on whether they vote at all. There is a curious narrative of blaming the young’s apathy for Brexit and, more broadly, their own woes as a generation: if they were more of a voting force, they’d be less screwed on student fees, house prices and paying for their grandparents’ triple-locked pensions.
But these descriptions are very static, and often muddle age and generation effects. The much more important question is whether these patterns have always been a feature of youth, or whether it’s something about this particular cohort of young people—or Millennials, the almost always derogatory label for the current generation of young people, born from around 1980.
First, this current generation of young people does vote less—but as the chart below shows, the real break in voting levels started with the previous cohort, Generation X (who were born 1966-1979).
Our new reanalysis of the British Election Study shows that there was a big drop in the relative turnout of 18-24 year olds at the 1997 election—a group that would have been born in 1973-1979. And this has slowly crept through the age spectrum as this Generation X cohort has grown up: by the 2001 election, this Generation X group had continued with their low…