In the latest of our series of articles on young people, Lilian Greenwood argues young voters care more about issues like transport than party loyalty – and having answers to these real-life problems is the best route to success.
In a recent video, Barack Obama says he doesn’t have time for the seven common excuses that Americans use for not voting. “Elections are boring,” he says. “You know what’s boring? Scrolling through endless photos of your dinner on Instagram. That’s boring.”
The former President’s video is one of many creative efforts to spur young people into casting their ballots in the US mid-term elections on November 6. Another video, Dear Young People, Don’t Vote, uses reverse psychology to make the point. One older US voter after another suggests reasons why young people shouldn’t vote. “Climate change?” asks one, “that’s a new problem. I’ll be dead soon.”
In the US, less than half of 18-34-year-olds voted in the last election. Fortunately, when it comes to political engagement, evidence suggests that the UK’s young people are ahead of their US peers. In fact, slowly – but surely – the picture is changing here in the UK and as politicians, we need to make sure it does.
As strange as it sounds, I actually know this from direct experience as Chair of the Transport Select Committee. Most people don’t know much about the work of Parliament’s Select Committees, but young people certainly care about the issues we’re investigating, whether that’s action to protect the environment or rising bus and rail fares.
For example, I know that younger people are turning away from the private car. Back in the early ‘90s almost half of the 17-20-year-olds had a driving licence, now it’s less than a third. The number of 21-29-year-olds with a driving licence has also fallen by over 10% over the same period.
It’s not surprising, therefore, that the cost of transport is a huge concern for younger voters. The National Youth Parliament chose it as their top priority for debate in 2011 and the Youth Select Committee produced a report on transport and young people a year later – focusing on safety, accessibility and affordability.
There are a number of issues that we’re looking at on the Transport Committee that are relevant to young people. On one hand, before Christmas, we’ll report on Mobility as a Service (MaaS). From the minute we set foot outside the house towards college or work to the park or the pub, we engage with transport. MaaS works by integrating different transport apps to connect transport across cities.
It’s an idea which could really help us plan journeys to make the best of our public transport systems. As avid users of new technology, many young people might wonder why we’re not further ahead.
On the other hand, buses account for five per cent of all journeys in the UK in 2016 – the highest percentage for any form of public transport. But while bus use in London is growing, it’s falling outside the capital. I’ve been to Leicester to hear some of the reasons why and on 12th November, the Committee will hold an evidence session in Bristol, where you’re welcome to join us.
In its report on the UK’s 2001 general election, the Electoral Commission reported the lowest voter turnout since the advent of universal adult suffrage – just 59.4% of eligible voters cast their vote. For 18-24-year-olds, the figure was an estimated 39%.
In the 2015 general election, the gap between old and young voters who exercised their democratic right was a yawning 35 percentage points. Ipsos Mori figures reported 78% of people aged 65 or overvoted, compared to 43% of 18-24-year-olds.
For the EU Referendum, youth turnout was almost twice as high as first thought, at 64%. But an analysis by the London School of Economics revealed that the higher the age demographic, the higher the turnout: 65% for 25-39 year-olds, 66% for those aged 40-54, 74% among the 55-64 age group – but 90% for those aged 65 and over.
By the 2017 general election, turnout was at a 25-year high, boosted by the younger generation and BME voters. More than half of those aged 18-24 turned out to vote – up 15 percentage points on 2015. But the same pattern applied – older voters were much more likely to vote than their younger counterparts.
Professor Michael Bruter, who carried out a detailed analysis of referendum polling with his LSE colleague, Dr Sarah Harrison, told the Guardian that “young people find it easier to get passionate about an issue than they do about a party”. And where the stakes are high, or the vision projected is about bigger ideas, there is demonstrable engagement.
What this tells me is that is the message counts. Political parties can try lots of tactics but in an era of ‘disinformation’, putting across honest answers to real issues is key.