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Voting matters

In the immediate aftermath of the Brexit referendum last year, it seemed that young people had missed an opportunity by failing to vote for the future in Europe that they wanted.

Around 70% of the UK's almost 6 million 18- to 24-year-olds are registered to vote, but a SkyData projection the morning after the referendum had turnout in this age group at just 36%.

Had those "missing" young people bothered to vote, the story went, it would have been enough to overturn the Leave majority of just over 1.25 million. And with YouGov reporting that 71% of this age group wanted to remain in Europe, it was tempting to conclude that they had collectively shot themselves in their great big lazy foot.

Statistics being just north of "damned lies", of course, later surveys saw things rather differently. Research by Opinium and the London School of Economics, for instance, reckoned that a much higher proportion of 18-to-24s  - 64% of them - may have voted.

Furthermore, Michael Bruter, professor of political science and European politics at the LSE who analysed this research, said: "Allowing 16-to-17-year-olds a vote would have added nearly 1.6 million potential citizens to the electorate... On balance, the results of our surveys on the turnout of 18-to-24-year-olds would suggest that it would not have been enough to overturn the result of the referendum … but it would have almost certainly reduced the advantage of Leave to such a point (likely less than 500,000 votes) that the very concept of a majority would have been highly controversial."

How ever it really shook down - and we may never know for sure because, quite rightly, that's between individuals and their ballot boxes - it's clear that young people can and do make a difference.

And if the Opinium survey is right, then it gives the lie to the long-standing belief that young people don't vote. Overall turnout in the 2015 General Election was 66% - roughly the same as for young people in the Brexit referendum. Indeed, 100,000 under-25s are reckoned to have registered to vote in the three days after the 8 June General Election was called.

Get registered

If there is a stumbling block for young people in staking their claim to part of our electoral landscape, it may be in getting registered to vote.

Fortunately, that's now easier than ever in the internet age. Just go here:

It takes about five minutes and you'll want your National Insurance Number handy. Simples.

It's too late to register for the 4 May local elections, if you haven't already, but you have until 22 May for the 8 June General Election. You need to be 18, or turning 18 before polling day.

Where to register?

This can trip students up. Should they register at home, or at their uni address?

The answer, according to the Electoral Commission, is both.

If a local election is going to happen during term time, you can get a postal vote for your home council(s) and still vote in person in your university town.

(You can only vote once in any election, though, so for a General Election simply vote in the place you'll be on polling day - or get a postal vote if you intend to be off travelling, passed out in a festival field, or whatever.)


It's possible that, with so many people predicting a foregone conclusion in the coming election, turnout will be low. It's an opportunity for young people to sway things in their favour if they can get out and vote en bloc.

In an age of university fees of £9000 and upwards, starter homes costing hundreds of thousands of pounds, zero-hours contracts and, yes, old folk wanting to avoid pesky foreigners, maybe those citizenship and general studies lessons consigned to dark corners of the school timetable won't seem like filler after all.



Posted by Nicholas Manthorpe on Fri, 28 Apr 2017

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Nick was a reporter for the Eastern Daily Press and its sister weekly titles in Norfolk and Waveney, then served as Media Officer for North Norfolk District Council for 13 years. He now works as a writer and PR and media relations consultant. He is a member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, an associate member of the Chartered Management Institute and a member of East Anglian Writers.

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