Brexit and the Youth Myth

In my post last week on youth turnout at the EU referendum, I explained that because turnout figures are usually reported as a percentage of registered voters, the ‘real’ turnout gap between young and old voters was probably larger than current estimates are showing.

Since then, new estimates of electoral register ‘completeness’ have been released, showing the percentage of otherwise eligible people (i.e. meeting age, residency and nationality requirements) that were registered to vote by the end of last year. While 96 percent of the over 65s were registered, the figures were just 65% and 67% for 18-19 year olds and 20-24 year olds respectively.

Now a lot may have changed between the end of last year and the 23rd June, including registration drives targeted at young people in particular. However, it’s the best data we’ve got, and so it’s worth seeing how applying these figures affect the turnout gap.

Here’s Opinium’s estimate of turnout among registered voters by age:


And here’s the full spread of completeness by age in the latest Electoral Commission report:


Now let’s see what happens to the turnout gap between the youngest and oldest voters when we apply one to the other. In other words, these ‘real’ turnout figures are the percentage of the population in that age group that voted, whether they were registered or not, but who met the other requirements (e.g. nationality/residency):


Because almost all those aged 65 and over who are eligible are registered to vote, the ‘real’ turnout figure is almost identical.  For 18-24 year olds, ‘real’ turnout may have been as low as 43 percent, half the rate of those aged 65 and over.

Estimates do appear to show that youth turnout as a percentage of registered voters rose between the May 2015 General Election and the referendum. While this is probably the case, the turnout ‘gap’ between older and younger voters is probably still very large indeed.