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The Youth Smashed It, Surprising Everyone But Young People

People thought the youth were apathetic about politics but it was only politicians and the right-wing media who were apathetic about them.

by Hannah Ewens
09 June 2017, 12:21pm

Photo: Chris Bethell

This morning, pundits, the right-wing press and politicians seemed shocked that young people came out in their droves to vote in yesterday's general election. We can enjoy headlines such as "Revenge Of The Youth!" from The Mirror, and former News of the World editor Andy Coulson saying the youth vote has "lashed out aggressively".

Of course, none of this should have come as a surprise to them at all; Labour's election campaign has been characterised by a huge surge in political engagement among the young. Although we've woken up to a hung parliament rather than a Labour win, perhaps the biggest takeaway from the snap election is that the stereotype of millennials and Gen Z as politically apathetic has truly been overturned.

Since the Tony Blair era, youth voter turnout has been falling; the British Election Study estimated under-25 turnout at 75.4 percent in 1992. By 2005, it was only 44.3.

Yesterday, however, we were nearly back to those early-90s glory days. Estimates vary, but the NUS is saying youth turnout was as high as 72 percent, while Sky News data suggests a 66.4 percent turnout among voters aged 18 to 24. If accurate, this is up on the youth turnout for the Brexit vote, which was 64 percent. But whatever the exact figure ends up being, this will have been the first election since 1992 in which the majority of young people have voted.

This confirms everything we already knew in the lead up to election day. On the day the snap election was called, 57,987 people under 25 registered to vote – more than any other age group. Just behind them – as the second largest group, with 51,341 registering – were people aged between 25 and 34.

Nowhere was this swing felt more strongly than in Canterbury, where history has been made: for the first time since the constituency was formed, in 1918, it has a Labour MP. The Tories have claimed there was a strong student movement on social media, with 8,000 new voter registrations in the area.

The youth turnout and vote hasn't just been about Labour's proposed scrapping of university tuition fees, as some commentators are suggesting – actually, polls showed that issue to be further down on the list of youth priorities than the NHS and Brexit. It's been about Corbyn as a solid alternative to May. It's about the fact young people oppose a hard Brexit and, by and large, didn't want to leave the EU in the first place. They wanted the right to live and work in Europe. They want to raise minimum wage. They care about the environment and they want to save the NHS.

Tories are blaming the "unexpected" youth vote for the failure of their campaign, which implies its success relied on youth apathy. They might still be in power, but at least they now know they can't take the young for granted.

@hannahrosewens

More election stuff:

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This Is the Britain You're Waking Up To

Surprise Election Scalps To Look Out For