In the 2017 General Election a so-called “youthquake” played a part in Theresa May’s majority vanishing. With more young people registering to vote than ever, NTU Election Special asked electoral expert Matt Ashton – an NTU politics lecturer – for his views on the impact of the youth vote at this election.
“There are two issues here, one being whether they then actually come out to vote, that’s crucial, and the second, where they are.”
What do you think are important issues for the younger voters?
“I think in terms of younger issues, we talked about progressive issues, so Brexit, a lot of young people care about that in terms of the economy, in terms of being able to live or work abroad. In particular though, climate, and the whole thing about Extinction Rebellion and what’s going to happen to the future, because this is a planet they are going to live in. Issues like trans gender rights, homelessness. Young people tend to care more about sensual issues. They don’t worry so much about house prices, a couple of years maybe. University education and tuition fees is obviously a big one.”
Who do you think is addressing them in their manifesto?
“The Labour party predominantly. There is an issue here where a lot of young people want to stop Brexit, so the Labour party being all things to all people, saying we’re going to have a new deal, we’re going to have another referendum, we’re going to try and stay neutral, that is alienating a lot of young people, but a lot of younger people remember what happened with the Liberal Democrats, the coalition, the troubling of tuition fees. Not so much the conservatives, their politics is much more geared to older people at the moment.”
What difference do you think it would make to allow 16/17 year olds to vote?
“Apart from the obvious increase in the size of the franchise and there being more people voting, it probably would benefit the left-wing parties more than the conservatives. Young people tend to be more socially liberal in their views in terms of being socially progressive, voting on issues like gay rights, transgender rights, immigration and things like that. Economically they tend to be more liberal in their outlook, so would benefit left wing parties more I suspect.
However, whether sufficient numbers of young people would come out to vote that is a big question, and the fact that an awful lot of young people are grouped together in urban areas where the young tend to vote left-wing already anyway, it is debatable whether it would make that much difference.”
Would these mean a less informed vote, and young people tending to vote based on their parents’ influence?
“I don’t know about that, certainly the 18-year olds I meet at university, their view of the world, their politics is already fairly bedded in, and quite often there’s a whole thing of reacting against their parents, teenagers rebelling. Whether they’re informed enough, that’s a debatable one, simply because I meet a lot of 30/40 year olds who are not informed enough. Look at the Brexit referendum, lots of people voted there who didn’t necessarily have access to all the information, so that is debatable.”
Do you think the climate emergency should come above every other consideration?
“It’s a tricky one, simply because all of these issues are interlinked in terms of transport policy, sustainable eating, that links in with climate change. What we need is joined up policy to address a sort of green, new deal. In terms of long-term change, climate change is something we should be addressing. The trouble is, there is always this issue of economic growth and people tend to think in the short term, if you were to say a policy would pay off in 100 years time, no one’s interested.”
Why do you think so many younger voters tend to vote to the left and then lean more to the right as they get older?
“There are two different things going on here. One is, taxation, young people don’t pay tax so much, obviously some people do, but not in the quantities that older people do. You come to this situation where money is going to be paying for housing, for your children, for food, you start becoming more resentful about the government taking a certain amount. I think there is obviously issues about what the government is doing with it, what they’re spending it on, people get worried about that.
Then there is also how society evolves. So, if you thought ‘I was young and I was radical’, and you think you’re left wing and you think you’re progressive, then suddenly there’s a lot of young people on twitter saying you’re a fascist. There has been a thing here with feminist, where all these women thought they were feminists, progressive, on the side of female emancipation and on the side of young people, they’re having lots of people suddenly saying, ‘no no, you’re a fascist’. So, I can imagine as a result of that, sort of re-shifting their politics.”
Do you think the youth vote will make a large impact on the outcome of the election, and how does this compare to the last election?
Well, lots of young people have registered to vote, I think last time it was about 600, 000 new people registered and this time I think its about 1.6 million. But, there are two issues here, one being whether they then actually come out to vote, that’s crucial, and the second, where they are. We live in an electoral system where 14 million people, their seat hasn’t changed party since 1945, unless you’ve got massive numbers of young people totalling in particular areas. You need more young people in middle England to make a difference, more rural seats.”
How would you describe the dubious use of social media by the Conservatives?
“I think it is incredibly suspect, I don’t think this has to be necessarily a partisan issue. I think the way the Conservatives has used social media, in terms of renaming their Twitter account, their re-editing of the Keir Starmer interview, what happened outside Leeds general when they were accused of punching someone, and they hadn’t that was really problematic. I think a lot of it comes down to, social media is not regulated properly, there is so much stuff on there that is really damaging our democracy.
There is a whole thing therefore, of are foreign countries interfering? Since the thing with the small child being treated on the floor, there were hundreds, if not thousands of Twitter accounts, lots of them anonymous, some recently created, saying they know a nurse that works there, and this is a complete setup, there was a bed, there were hundreds of them just spamming peoples timelines. I can’t say there were from the Conservative party, or where they were from Russia, because you know, Russia has got in-built interests here, that could be of concern.”
Do you think the Labour Party are being practical with their idea to cut university fees?
“Personally, I would like to see university fees cut. I don’t want there to be barriers between young people and pursuing further education but also the current thing of, come to university and then this kind of debt time bomb that’s building up, where a lot of young people are not going to ever pay it back and then it’s going to be sort of written off, so it’s a growing bubble of debt that no one is addressing.”