As Richard has highlighted on his TRUK blog there is a low youth turn out in the UK. Here I discuss a study by the University of Warwick. According to the study:
“Britain has the worst youth voter turnout problem in the OECD. At the last general election, there was a 37 percentage point gap between over-55 and under-35 turnout. This is the biggest gap in the OECD, and it is worse than the second-worst by a long way: British young adults appear to be unusually turned off by the democratic process. At a national and European level, younger generations of British citizens risk being short-changed by policy makers as a result of their absence from the ballot box, and there is no indication that their turnout will improve as they get older”.
This is shown rather dramatically in Figure 1 where the UK is clearly an outlier. Needless to say this is not good and had disastrous consequences for example in the Brexit vote where younger voters were strongly Remain and Older Voters Leave. It is also the case that young voters are far more likely to support Progressive parties rather than the Torys. Younger citizens have been treated very badly in terms of housing, quality of jobs and fees for university education for example.
Figure 1 Difference in voting rates between those 55+ years old and those 16-35 years old (percentage points)
This appears to be a relatively recent phenomenon, Warwick plot the turnout in subsequent General Elections which shows that up to 1992 the gap was smaller at around 10 percentage points, but has dropped since.
Figure 2 Weighted Average Turnout of 18-34 year olds and older age groups by General Election.
The Warwick group then try to analyse why people vote and it seems that the most important factor is belief in democracy rather than personal gain. Figure 3 below shows factors analysed by social scientists, with the size of the ‘weights’ roughly corresponding to what the literature has to say about their importance.
Figure 3 Factors that determine the decision whether or not to vote
The study identifies four areas which make one more likely to vote. To me, at least, none of this is surprising and the last two almost a statement of the obvious:
- level of education: The more educated an individual is, the higher is the likelihood that they will vote.
- Level of affluence (income and wealth ): The more affluent the individual, the higher is the likelihood that they will vote.
The best educated older people are more than twice as likely to vote as less educated young people.
- Political Knowledge: The more the individual knows about politics, the politicians/parties and their platforms, the higher is the likelihood they will vote.
- Engagement in Electoral Politics : The more engaged the individual is with elections and electoral politics, the higher the likelihood they will vote.
On the most important question as to why younger voters are less likely to vote the study is fairly silent and indicates more work needs to be done to identify the cause.
I have been in contact with Prof Abhinay Muthoo who is the lead academic on the study and has asked for a link when the article is published. Hopefully he will be able to comment as appropriate.