Young vote ‘could be vital to poll’

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Published: Monday 29th December 2014 by The News Editor

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The votes of up to three million young people remain up for grabs in what could be a crucial factor in a tight general election race, according to a poll.

But politicians need to engage better with them on social media if they are to tap into the large pool of undecideds, the survey of more than 1,000 18-25 year olds suggested.

The research, by Populus for think tank Demos and youth social action charity vInspired, found that 44% were yet to make up their minds which party to back on May 7.

More than three quarters (77%) intend to vote but there remains work to do to engage young women in politics – only 30% said they were interested compared with 48% of their male peers.

Asked to name the issues at the top of their agenda, 69% said the cost of living, 62% affordable housing, 58% unemployment and the NHS – all issues being pushed strongly by Labour.

But the majority of the latest cohort of younger voters also accept that the Government “can’t afford to do much more to help the needy”, the poll found.

Half put online privacy among their main concerns – more than the environment (45%), immigration (43%) or Britain’s future in the EU (34%).

As many would be put off as attracted by celebrity endorsements, the research found, with increased numbers of working class MPs more likely to get people involved than more women or ethnic minority representatives.

In a report based on the findings, Demos head of citizenship and political participation Jonathan Birdwell said politicians needed to do more online to engage young voters – such as holding surgeries via the internet.

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

“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, chief executive of vInspired, said: “16-25 year olds are more likely to volunteer than any other age group.

“But they are voting in fewer and fewer numbers.

“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.”

Published: Monday 29th December 2014 by The News Editor

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