Demos: Young voters concerned more about online privacy than immigration or the EU

– Polling reveals 18 to 25-year-olds would vote for housing and employment policies rather than measures to curb immigration or tax avoidance.  
– Report suggests youth vote could swing election, with 3 million young people yet to decide who they will vote for.
– Demos proposes package of Skype MP surgeries, social media hustings, online voting and a PMQs code of conduct to boost youth political participation.
Young voters are significantly more concerned by living costs, unemployment and online privacy than issues such as immigration or Britain’s relationship with the EU, according to a new Demos report.

A poll of a thousand 18 to 25-year-olds revealed that 69% were most concerned by ‘living costs’, while 62% said ‘affordable housing’ and 58% said either ‘unemployment’ or the ‘future of the NHS’. Exactly half of young people (50%) said they were either extremely or very concerned by ‘online privacy’.

By comparison only 45% of young people were concerned by ‘environmental issues’, 43% by ‘immigration’, 37% by ‘tax avoidance’ and just one in three (34%) by ‘Britain’s relationship with the EU’.

The findings feature in a major new Demos report, supported by the youth social action charity vInspired, investigating young voters’ political and social attitudes, and which factors would influence the party they choose in next year’s General Election.

The polling also found:

– Almost half of 18 to 25-year-olds (44%) have yet to decide which party they’ll vote for at the next election – equal to 3 million young people. 77% intend to vote, with young men considerably more interested in politics than young women (48% v 30%).

– Three policies that would make them most likely to vote for a party were: ‘guaranteed jobs or apprenticeships for young people’ (45%), ‘reducing the cost of higher education’ (41%) and ‘raising the national minimum wage for young people’ (40%).

– However, while young voters’ policy priorities arguably align more with left-wing parties, their social attitudes show their outlook is more complex than traditional left or right-wing divides. A greater number of young people agreed that:

‘Individuals should take more responsibility for providing for themselves’ (49% agree vs 39% disagree)
‘People who were unemployed should have to take any job available or lose their unemployment benefits’ (48% agree v 42% disagree)
‘The government can’t afford to do much more to help the needy’ (45% agree v 39% disagree)

Young people were more likely to be impressed by positive messages, rather than campaigns attacking other parties’ policies. When asked ‘what would make you likely to vote?’ 79% of respondents replied ‘A set of policies I strongly agree with’ while only 60% said they would vote against ‘A set of policies I strongly disagree with’.

Encouraging youth political participation

Researchers combined the polling with in-depth focus groups asking young people their views on today’s politicians and what would make them more likely to vote.

Many rejected the sometimes cynical use of celebrities to encourage young people to vote, with only 1 in 5 (19%) respondents saying the endorsement of a singer or public figure would make them more likely to vote, and an equal number (18%) actually saying it would make them less likely to vote.

Young people also called for greater diversity in parliament with over half (56%) more likely to vote if there were more working class MPs, 39% if there were more MPs under the age of 35, and 37% if their MP was from the local area. By comparison less than a third (31%) cited more women MPs as a key factor, and even less said more ethnic minority MPs (27%).

The findings lead Demos to call for a set of measures to increase political engagement among young people. TheTune In, Turn out report recommends:

– More effective use of social media by politicians, including online hustings via Facebook or regular MP surgeries via Skype & FaceTime.

– An awareness campaign allowing people to click a button on polling day that changes their Twitter and Facebook avatars to promote the fact they have voted.

– The House of Commons introduce a tough Code of Conduct for all MPs during PMQs, which is often cited by young people as a reason why they switch off politics.

– Exploring the possibility of same-day voter registration and the potential for allowing online voting, which 66% of young people said would make them more likely to vote.

Jonathan Birdwell, Head of Citizenship and Political Participation at the think tank Demos, who authored the report, said:

“Our research shows that there are up to 3 million young voters who are up for grabs in next year’s election.

“The political party that can tap into this pool may just win the keys to Downing Street. Young people are currently turned off voting because politicians aren’t offering them credible, positive policies that address the issues they’re most concerned about — namely, rising living costs, unemployment and housing.

“But the further challenge for politicians is to communicate these policies to young people in the spaces where they congregate, and in jargon-free language they understand. Social media must be central to voting outreach, but hopeful MPs must also engage young people in colleges, universities and youth centres across the country.

“In the long term, cementing the youth vote will require bigger reforms. Young people think politicians are all the same: elite, white, men with expensive education. But this research shows the successful politician of the future will be from a working class background, born and raised in the area they represent, and accessible and down-to-earth on social media.”

Moira Swinbank, CEO of youth social action charity vInspired said:

“Young people are not apathetic to things going on around them. Far from it. They are tackling causes they care about in thousands of creative and innovative ways. In fact, 16-to-25-year-olds are more likely to volunteer than any other age group. But they are voting in fewer and fewer numbers, and that is a problem for those in power who will inevitably do the most for the groups that vote them in, but it is also a problem for our democracy, and therefore our society. They are the electorate of the future. And if they don’t start the habit of voting now, who will be voting at all in 40 years’ time?

“Social media offers a great opportunity to reverse that trend. What young people want is clear and honest information, the same as everyone else. And policies that tackle the things they care about. But they want to hear about it in the space they communicate in. And, crucially, they want it in a way that encourages dialogue with those who seek to represent them. Politicians must beware the temptation to use Twitter and Facebook as another way to broadcast personal propaganda. If they really want to get young people voting for them, they need to talk to them.”



The report, Tune In, Turn out, authored by Jonathan Birdwell is published by Demos on Monday 29 December 2014.

This research was supported by vInspired.

vInspired helps young people to improve their skills, confidence and employability by giving them opportunities to do good things through volunteering and social action.

It provides a range of online and off-line programmes to suit every young person – regardless of their commitments, interests and abilities. It makes volunteering fun, rewarding and easy.

It’s Swing the Vote campaign, part of its Do Something UK programme, aims to empower young people to use their vote at the General Election 2015.