Opinion: Registering young voters increases party loyalty

Ballot paperThe move to Individual Electoral Registration later this year has the capacity to enable our party to re-engage with many young and new voters. Given our polling numbers, this is all the more pertinent, as registering young voters increases party loyalty.

There is considerable evidence that if people vote at the start of their careers as citizens, they are more likely to carry on voting. Rather than canvassing people sporadically, we should be targeting 16,17 and 18 year olds. Just like voters of all ages, young voters are attracted to candidates that reach out to them. Partisan loyalty develops during their first few years of being enfranchised. Reams of academic research in America show a young voters’ first presidential vote and party vote influence their party choice for decades. As Rock the Vote explain, voter registration remains the largest barrier to youth participation, but if they are registered, young people vote! Individual Electoral Registration opens the doors to the younger voters.

At present, one person in every household is responsible for registering everyone else who lives at that address. The UK is one of the only countries that still uses household registration. Under Individual Electoral Registration each person will be required to register to vote individually, rather than by household. There is cross party consensus on the need to move to a system of Individual Electoral Registration. In addition, the Electoral Commission supports its introduction. Although there are valid concerns that this will lead to more people falling off the register, Individual Electoral Registration is also an opportunity to increase party loyalty, if we get to them early.

As the Democratic Audit notes, in the 2010 General Election campaign, 76% of the over-65s voted, compared to only 44% of the 18-24s. The Institute for Public Policy Research says it’s even worse in local elections, where it is estimated that in 2013 only 32% of 18-24 year olds voted, compared with 72% of those aged over 65. This is hardly surprising given that 45% of 17-18 year old are not currently on the electoral register. But by encouraging young people to register to vote, we can at the same time engage with them. I therefore encourage all local parties to take part in Bite the Ballot’s ‘National Voter Registration Day‘ on 5th February 2014. In celebration of the anniversary of the Great Reform Act and the introduction of voter registration, Bite the Ballot is co-ordinating a national day of events run by schools, businesses and community groups with the aim of ensuring that as many people as possible register to vote – and that 250,000 of them do so on the 5th February.

In an age of partisan de-alignment, we can buck the trend by taking part in National Voter Registration Day and taking advantage of Individual Electoral Registration. By holding Action Days specifically to register young voters, we can increase our chances of an entire new section of the electorate voting for the party in many years to come.


* Alex Smethurst is a Parliamentary Assistant and candidate for Redland ward in Bristol in the local elections in May (written in a personal capacity).

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