The following piece was written by Faith Blake, as part of the University of Adelaide Community Engagement Learning Project.
The power of young people and their votes is a force to be reckoned with; the recent UK election proved this.
Join us as we discuss the influence young people in the UK had on their election and how young South Australians have the power to create an impact too.
A BRIEF INTRODUCTION
- An early UK election was held on the 8th of June, 2017.
- The UK witnessed their largest youth turnout since 1992.
- 66.4 percent turnout for 18-24 year olds.
- Young people provided a boost in seats for UK’s Labour party.
- This resulted in a hung parliament and brought back the two-party system.
- But why was there an increase turnout for young voters?
- Most importantly, why should young South Australians care? Let’s find out.
On the 8th of June this year, our friends on the other side of the world had the delight of voting in the United Kingdom’s 2017 general election. Unlike Australia’s Federal and State elections, voting is not compulsory in the UK and this can have an impact on young people. But how?
Well, The Conversation explains:
“We know, however, that politicians will provide policies that target large blocs of high-turnout voters, which means that unless young people start voting their views are likely to be further marginalised in the future.”
Past UK elections have seen low turnout rates for young British voters, with the 2015 general election seeing a 43 percent turnout and only 137,400 registered to vote. However, the 2017 general election saw a surge from people under 25 registering to vote, A whopping 57,987 young people registered to vote the day the election was announced, and by the registration deadline more than one million had applied. The voter turnout rate for young people was 66.4 percent, a victorious result which had a major impact on the election.
Want to know more about the election? Here is a helpful video for non-brits by The Guardian:
WHAT MOTIVATED YOUNG PEOPLE TO VOTE?
The massive increase in what is dubbed the ‘youth vote’ was astounding and left many questioning the cause of the unexpected surge. We searched the internet, reading articles from The New York Times, The Guardian, Vox and other news sites, to discover why more young people voted than ever before. Here are some of the possible causes we found:
- The British Labour Party’s increased social media presence, with a focus on addressing young people’s concerns.
- Targeted campaigns like #TurnUp by youth organisations such as Bite the Ballot, My Life My Say, and Undivided.
- Disenfranchisement after the Brexit referendum outcome.
- Anxiety over the future, especially regarding job creation and the NHS (the National Health Service).
- Organisation, Momentum, training young people to be campaigners and sending them out to encourage their peers to vote.
- Viral videos and ‘memes’ – some created by Momentum.
Below is a thought-provoking satirical viral video created by Momentum:
WHAT POLITICAL ISSUES AND POLITICAL PARTIES DID YOUNG PEOPLE SUPPORT AND REJECT?
A popular claim why young people voted is because they were hoodwinked by the promise of abolishing higher education fees; however, this is not the case. Research by Hope Not Hate, an anti-racism group, featured in BuzzFeed’s article, Here’s What Young People Actually Want From 2017’s General Election, shows young people are passionate about a variety of issues. This includes:
- The National Health Service – this was the top concern!
- Abolishment of tuition fees
They also rejected certain policies such as the legalisation of cannabis, a Liberal Democrat policy, with 49% of young people opposing it. Furthermore, their Brexit priorities didn’t align with either the Conservatives’ or Labour’s election promises. For example, Labour and the Conservatives both want to stop freedom of movement between the UK and the European Union; but, 49% of young people wanted it to be kept.
The Guardian investigated some more key issues for young people and published an article highlighting the views of eight people aged 20-29. The key issues raised were:
- Internet security
- Mental health
- Gender Equality
- The School System
- Employment Opportunities
- Abolishment of Higher Education Fees
- The Environment
- Reducing the Voting Age to 16 or 17
It is clear: young people do care about abolishing university fees but this is not their only concern.
But who did they vote for? Overwhelmingly Labour (not to be confused with Australia's Labor Party). Below is a graphic created by YouGov showing a trend where the younger the voter, the more likely they would vote for Britain's Labour Party. 60% of young people between the ages of 18-24 voted for Labour in the 2017 general election.
Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party, was very popular among young people. Many saw Corbyn as an honest person who cared about addressing their concerns. He ran successful campaigns that included young people in the political process, while removing the smoke and mirror of politics. Their admiration and support for the Labour leader could be seen through the hilarious memes created:
DID YOUNG PEOPLE INFLUENCE THE UK ELECTION?
They certainly did! Although Labour did not win enough seats to form government, the opposing Conservative party was unable to gain enough seats to form a strong lead – resulting in a hung Parliament. This took away the Conservatives majority government and brought back the two party system. Labour achieved a 10 point rise, taking 40% while the Conservatives took 42%.
Britain’s young people flexed their democratic muscles and changes the status quo in their country's politics. Political parties were forced to take notice of the power young people can bring when they are passionate about their future and their country. This was evident in Jeremy Corbyn’s and Labour’s focus on providing youth based policies.
Young people did influence the election – both with voting numbers and with forcing politicians to acknowledge them, form youth based policies and campaign for their vote.
WHY IS THE ‘YOUTH VOTE’ IN THE UK ELECTION IMPORTANT FOR YOUNG SOUTH AUSTRALIANS?
Yes, why should we care about our peers from across the sea? Why should we care about the youth vote in wet, cold Britain when it doesn’t affect us in dry, hot South Australia?
South Australia specifically, as of 23 January 2017, has 53,549 people who have not enrolled to vote.
Young South Australians are missing out on having their voice heard. As the young people of UK have shown us, we could have a major impact on the political process and the election.
Leo Fieldgrass from the Australian Youth Affairs Coalition states in an ABC article:
"We're at a point in Australia's history where today's young people look set to be the first generation who will have a lower standard of living than their parents."
It is important that we vote, both in the Federal, State and Local elections. It is our present and our future that we need to fight for. Our voice, our vote can have an impact.
I know as you’re reading this, you are screaming:
Y Vote Australia provides numerous resources for young people unsure about voting and who to vote for. Some great articles are:
- 6 tools to help you make an informed vote this election
- Why your vote matters in local government
- Don't want to vote? Here's 7 inspiring facts you need to know
Their Facebook page is also filled with helpful information. This graphic puts the power of Australia’s youth vote into perspective:
NOW IT'S YOUR TURN!
Are you registered to vote?
You can enrol online (easy-peasy), as well as update your address (very important!), on the Australian Electoral Commission website. This is free to do and you will not face any fines if you haven’t registered to vote previously.
It's your turn to drive change.