The percentage of young people who turned out to vote in the EU referendum on 23rd June 2016 is unclear. Initial reports claimed a shockingly low 36% turned out to have their say on the future of Britain’s relationship with the European Union. However, it was subsequently revealed that this figure reported by Sky News was based on “likely turn out for the 2015 General Election” (which this is itself a concerning statistic). Since then a number of polls have been conducted suggesting that the turnout was more like two-thirds of young people, however these polls vary in their categorisation of young people as 18-24 and 18-34. They are also flawed because those who voted in the Referendum are likely to respond to a poll asking whether they voted or not.
Nonetheless, all the reports concur that, to some extent, young people are less likely to vote than older people. This is very disturbing given that it is our future and life prospects that will be affected whereas older generations are voting after enjoying greater job security, more affordable houses, a better functioning NHS, fee free higher education and more generous pension schemes, amongst many other benefits. This begs the question; why are so few young people engaging in the political debate and having their say in their own futures?
Universities used to be considered the centre of political campaigning and social activism, but nowadays the majority of political party members and campaigners are middle-aged. There are many reasons for this cultural trend, to begin with, political activism isn’t encouraged or supported by the university institutions. For example, the Sheffield Student Newspaper is funded by charity and all articles are checked by the legal team who decided they couldn’t publish any of my satirical cartoons. Student Unions will also not allow you to leaflet or put up posters with any political bias. The same issue occurs in schools, where teachers will be persecuted for expressing political bias and accused of “indoctrinating” young children. So when they teach children about political issue they have to be excessively vigilant to ensure there is no bias in their lessons. The result is that most teachers avoid political education and expressing political views, which is one of the causes of young people’s estrangement from politics. Students are also under severe pressure and stress due to their assessment driven work load, where political campaigning is considered a distraction from their studies rather than part of their education. Young people in general, also feel a disaffection with the white-collar, middle class people who work in government. Jeremy Corbyn may look extremely cringe-worthy crouching down reading a picture book to a group of Primary school children, but his efforts to engage with “the People” are quite admirable. I am on a personal crusade to get more young people to engage with the political debate, by using humour, art and music. Nonetheless, it often feels like banging my head on a wall as commercial platforms will reject anything with a political message aimed at young people.
Regardless of the number of young people who turned up to vote in the EU referendum, one thing was clear, a majority of 73% wanted to remain in the European Union. Nonetheless, our future has been decided by the older generations who have enjoyed privileges we will probably never experience ourselves. It is therefore, of imperative importance that young people register and turn out to vote in the 2017 snap General Election on 8th June. We need to make our voices heard loud and clear. And if you are a disaffected youth who thinks that the political outcome won’t affect your future – then think again. REGISTER TO VOTE DEADLINE 22nd MAY.