Engaging Young People in Politics


In the lead up to the EU Referendum young people were seen as the demographic that could decide whether the United Kingdom leaves or remains in the EU. There were all sorts of ideas to get young people to register, David Cameron was on tinder, “Register to vote” geo-filters were on Snapchat and even Facebook was notifying people of the registration deadline. On paper it seems like this would work, as a young person, I use all of those apps on my Smartphone. I was reminded of it constantly and I expect frequent users of either of these apps were too.

When the registration deadline was extended after the website crashed two hours before it was supposed to close, there were some rather vocal members of the Leave Campaign stating that it should have closed regardless and it was clear they were worried that a 48-hour extension could hinder the hopes of a Leave vote.

Where did it go wrong then? I was at University at the time of this and all my friends were registered. A recent study by Opinium has revealed 64% of 18-24 year olds turned out to vote which is the lowest out of the age groups, for example the same study found that 90% of over 65’s voted. Those 18-24 year olds who did vote, voted overwhelmingly in favour of remaining however.

Personally, I think the two official campaigns didn’t cover themselves with glory when debating in the many TV Debates leading up to the referendum. You couldn’t watch them for more than a minute without one of them shouting insults at the other, it was more primary school than anything. I think this is one biggest reasons young people didn’t turn out to vote.

This time last year, Corbyn was just emerging and for several months after he was the political celebrity for many young people; his “new style of politics” was one of his most distinguishing features and one lots of people felt was going to be a turning point for British Politics. Young people may have loved it but the tabloid media sure didn’t, I expect because he didn’t provide the killer soundbite tabloids crave whereas Cameron is a soundbite machine. Every PMQs you can expect Cameron to deliver a soundbite either a joke or an insult, it’s inevitable.

So how do we re-engage them? Personally, I think we need to start representing them as intelligent people rather than kids who’ll vote for the first name they see. Not once during the debates was there a dedicated section for the future of young people; there may have been an “Erasmus Scheme” question but that was quickly answered and forgotten about. There was too much attention on immigration and not enough about the people who’ll be affected just as much as EU Citizens. The way the media expected young people will be voting remain is naïve in hindsight, there should have been a proper campaign to engage with them honestly and professionally.

In the post-Brexit world however, I think the Liberal Democrats have gone about it the right way so far. Appearing at Pro-EU marches, engaging with Young People and starting the #WeAreThe48 social media campaign was a huge step in the right direction for both the Liberal Democrats and the future engagement of young people. There’s still a long way to go but if we continue to include and represent the views of young people then we can expect to see more political activity and perhaps they’ll turn out to vote at the next election, which could be very soon.

* Haydyn Mullard joined the Liberal Democrats in 2015

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  • Little Jackie Paper 11th Jul '16 - 6:14pm

    To an extent the EU is no different to any other issue. For years now we’ve been told we need more cuts, more austerity and so on. And a triple locked pension. And fuel payments.

    If the young think that this is a numbers game they can’t win I for one don’t blame them. Writing off the student loan book, sticking one good and proper on buy-to-let landlords – that’s youth politics.

    Engage them by giving them something worth voting for. Easier said than done of course.

  • I would link this article to the report of the FCC which highlights the complete lack of interest in internationalism, human rights, and foreign affairs. In the course of my work I meet lots of young people especially students who tell me that Labour is their natural home if they are concerned about these things. I am sure in due course they will be disillusioned but we say little to them at present, except about the EU of which we are still a member for the time being.

  • “Tim Farron, has been quick out of the blocks in the last few minutes meanwhile in making this appeal to Labour members (including MPs no doubt) who are disillusioned with their leader:”

    Young people are engaging with Corbyn because firstly he is a genuine politician, but one of the biggest criticisms of the Labour party I hear is that they’re the sort of people who would say they love the NHS but as soon as their child is ill it’s straight to a private hospital. It would therefore make me incredibly disappointed to see the Lib Dems reach out to those MP’s and those Labour party members who wanted to keep Corbyn off the ballot paper and have acted so undemocratically to try and disarm him.

  • Simon Banks 12th Jul '16 - 8:53pm

    Quite a lot of student-age people have joined the Liberal Democrats, certainly in the post-election surge. Not quite sure yet about the current surge. If local parties and party pressure groups really support and encourage new young members, giving them their head, they in turn are our ambassadors to others in their age-group.

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