Turning Out and Turning Left? Young People and the 2017 General Election, by James Sloam

Youth turnout in UK general elections has declined significantly in recent decades. Over 60% of 18 to 24 year olds voted in the 1992 election compared to an average of around 40% since 2002. Youth turnout in the UK is amongst the lowest in Western Europe. For example, around double the proportion of young Swedes vote in national elections (see below). The problem is particularly pronounced amongst young people of low socio-economic status. Only a quarter of those who leave school with no qualifications vote, compared to three quarters of university students.

There is also the additional issue of voter registration. With the introduction of Individual Voter Registration in 2014, over a million citizens (disproportionately young people) fell off the electoral roll. Despite the valiant efforts of a number of organisations – such as Bite the Ballot – to promote registration and bring young people to the polls, the decline in youth turnout has not been reversed.

However, there is overwhelming evidence to show that young people are interested in ‘politics’ (more broadly defined) and engage in a whole multitude of civic and political activities: from demonstrations against university tuition fees, to the boycotting of products that damage the environment, to campaigns against the closing of parks or youth clubs in local communities. So, young people are often interested in, and engaged in, key issues, but are put off by politicians and political parties.

This was demonstrated by the 2016 referendum on British membership of the European Union, when 60% of 18 to 24 year olds turned out to vote on this issue of concern. But most young people were disappointed by the result. Around three quarters of this age group (and 82% of university students) voted for the UK to remain in the EU.

It is, furthermore, clear that the gap between youth attitudes and those of older voters has grown: from the Iraq War, to student tuition fees, to immigration, to Brexit. Indeed, the Labour Party under Ed Miliband managed to significantly increase its share of the vote amongst 18 to 24 year olds in 2015, while losing ground amongst older voters. The Green Party also performed much better (and UKIP much worse) amongst younger voters.

This trend looks set to continue in 2017. According to a recent YouGov poll, almost half of 18 to 24 year olds (and 41% of 25 to 49 year olds) intend to vote Labour, compared to 31% nationally (and only 14% of over 65s!). Only 22% of 18 to 24 year olds support the Conservative Party, compared to 66% of over 65s.

The EU referendum – alongside opposition to the rise of nationalist populism in the United States (with the election of Donald Trump), France and elsewhere – may have had a politicizing effect on young people. Currently, 56% of 18 to 24 year olds claim that they are certain to vote, compared to just 46% at a similar point before the 2015 general election. So, there are some signs of optimism.

Yet the plea to politicians and political parties of all colours must be that they address younger voters’ concerns and pitch policies to this demographic through their manifestos and engagement activities.

In 2015, I undertook a content analysis of party manifestos, which revealed that youth issues were rarely addressed. The Green Party and Labour made the most effort to appeal to younger voters. They were closely followed by the Conservative Party. The Lib Dems and UKIP languished far behind. Unsurprisingly, most parties focus their attention on the growing army of older voters (who also are more likely to turn out in elections).

In recent years, many politicians have professed their commitment to strengthening youth engagement in British democracy. In this context, it will be interesting to see whether, in 2017, political parties will broaden their appeals to reach a younger audience.

James Sloam is Reader in Politics and International Relations, Co-Director of the Centre for European Politics, and a member of the New Political Communication Unit at Royal Holloway, University of London.

CfP: Panel: Automated social-media bots and the non-human: opening a dialogue between Political Communication and Science and Technology Studies

Call for papers now open for the 11th Annual Science in Public Conference, 10th-12th July, at the University of Sheffield. #SIPsheff17

Information and submission portal here

Deadline: April 18th

Notification of acceptance: April 26th

Panel Organisers

Declan McDowell-Naylor – New Political Communication Unit, Royal Holloway, University of London

Samantha Bradshaw – D.Phil. Candidate, Oxford Internet Institute, Oxford University

Gillian Bolsover – Researcher and DPhil Candidate, Oxford Internet Institute, Oxford University

Call for Panel Papers

The social and political effects of new media, social networks and technological innovation are important and pressing areas of academic inquiry for both Science and Technology Studies (STS) and Political Communication scholarship. However, interdisciplinary work between these two fields of study is uncommon, despite many confluences in theoretical and methodological approaches. This panel seeks to open a dialogue between STS and Political Communication scholarship. We offer to do so in the context of an emergent area of inquiry in Political Communication: the rise of automated social-media bots and algorithmically-controlled communication.

In recent years, Political Communication scholarship has responded to some of the empirical challenges it has faced by adopting conceptual themes and approaches from STS (in particular from Actor-Network Theory), such as in Chadwick’s Hybrid Media System (2013) and Kleis Nielsen’s Ground Wars (2012). As a sub-field of Political Science, Political Communication theory opens up new opportunities to engage with STS’s desire to “promote conversation of the conceptions of politics that animate social studies of science and technology” (Brown, 2015,p.3) and speaks to the ‘engaged program’ of STS that is “converging on the democratisation of technoscience” (Sismondo, 2008, p.21).

We invite papers on topics including, but not limited to:

  • Understanding the conceptual applicability of STS to other fields, and in particular the success of ANT
  • How ‘social-media bots’ can be and/or are understood by STS scholars, especially as non-human actors?
  • What it means for communication to be ‘political’ – how can this be challenged?
  • Likewise, what are the predominant conceptions of politics in STS, and how can they be challenged?
  • Why do both STS and Political Communication place such normative value on democracy?
  • The conceptual, methodological, and empirical horizon of STS – what’s coming next?