Yesterday’s election campaign began like so many others. Prime Minister David Cameron was driven to Buckingham Palace for an audience with the Queen – seeking formal approval to dissolve Parliament. His brief meeting brought the curtain down on five years of coalition between the Tories and Lib Dems, as the various political parties officially kicked off their campaigns (although these have been in full swing for weeks if not months).
Even before dissolution of Parliament, there’s been a raft of statistics, guides to the political parties and where they stand on various issues, policy announcements and soundbites, and countdowns to polling day. And this is before the media have considered every possible coalition and post-election power-sharing deal – visually, virtually, and in print. But amidst the vast amount of information and commentaries, it’s easy to miss a key element to this election – the impact and importance of young voters.
In an election dubbed ‘the most uncertain in decades’ and one that is likely to result in a hung parliament, young people’s votes have never been more important. This is why various outlets, including the BBC, Newsbeat and the Electoral Commission, have launched major public awareness campaigns to educate people, particularly younger members of society, of the power of their votes, with a reminder to register to vote by the April 20 deadline.
With hashtags like #registertovote and #GE2015, there’s a clear focus on the need to reach young voters and it’s not hard to see why. In research conducted by YouGov, more than half (53%) of 18-24 year olds didn’t know they could register to vote online. And in a separate survey by British Future, only 41% of young people said they will vote on 7 May. This compares with 60% of the overall population and 75% of those over the age of 65.
While it’s important to ensure resources are in place to encourage young people to vote, this alone isn’t enough. Young voters are increasingly disenchanted with the political status quo. With “not knowing enough about politics” being the most cited reason for not planning to register in time for the election, the challenge is not only getting young people to the polling station on 7 May, but to get more young people interested and involved in the issues that affect our everyday lives.
This is why we are launching the De-mob website this week. It’s a resource that aims to encourage young people to engage with and participate in politics – providing a one-stop bank of information on who’s saying what about the things that affect us. If young people voted in the same numbers as other age groups within the population – and 60% of them turned up on polling day – there would be an additional 650,000 votes at the ballot box.
That’s a number that could have a real impact on ‘the most uncertain election in decades.’