First-time voters bring new optimism in the United Kingdom

It is often said that today’s younger generations have grown disillusioned with politics and have been alienated by it. Yet, in the UK, a recently published Opinion poll conducted for the Observer presents a more optimistic landscape. Already back in September, the participation of 16-year-olds Scots in the referendum for independence, who were allowed to vote for the first time, proved to be important and there is now a debate on whether lowering the legal age to vote to 16.

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The results of the new poll show that the generation of young voters (age 17-22) have clear ideas of what they want from the government and that their preferences are generally quite opposite to the ones of the older generations.

The new voters are pro-Europe, with 62% of them supporting the UK membership to the European Union and 67% who said they would vote against leaving it in a referendum. This clearly goes against the widespread Euro-scepticism sentiment present in the country and made evident by the recent rise of the Euro-sceptic UK Independence Party. In fact, the majority of the likely voters, 41%, said they are likely to vote for the Labour Party in the next May 2015 general elections, while Nigel Farage, UKip’s leader, is liked only by 13%. As a matter of fact, young voters are more likely to vote for the Greens, another party that has recently gained more support: 19% said that they would vote for the Green Party while only 3% would vote for Farage’s UKippers.

Moreover, most first-time voters do not believe that immigration is bad for the UK, nor that it is one of the country’s most pressing priorities.On the contrary, young Britons are more concerned about the fate of the National Health Service, unemployment, and inequality. They are also in favour of same-sex marriages, indicating greater tolerance than some of older voters, and65% are pro-monarchy, showing that the UK traditions still matter to its younger citizens.

The young people interviewed were optimistic about the job market, with 53% thinking that it is not necessary to live in London or in south-east England in order to get a good job. Yet, most of them were also less in favour of banning unpaid internships than older voters are. Internships are increasingly important for having a competitive CV but unpaid internships can easily create class discrimination bypromoting those who can afford to work rather than those who have the talent for it.

The poll has two crucial implications for the next general elections. The first one is that the main parties need to better engage with first-time voters and to gauge their priorities if they want to have their support. For instance, the recently emphatic anti-EU position of Cameron’s Conservatives is likely to be counterproductive given the pro-EU sentiment shared by the younger voters. Moreover, 55% of those interviewed said that the government does not explain its decisions well to voters. Young people are not being alienated by politics, but they are being alienated by a certain kind of politics. The second implication is therefore that communication has to improve and since the younger generation of voters mainly interacts with politics via the social media the political campaigns leading to the general elections need to make better use of these means than they do now. 

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