openDemocracyUK

Podcast: a younger voter's guide to the European referendum

What is motivating younger voters in the European referendum – and what should?

Josh Neicho Joana Ramiro
6 June 2016

‘The eternal quest for youth’; ‘How can we stop Glastonbury goers from missing out on their vote?’; ‘David Cameron signs up for Tinder’; ‘Young people MUST vote in EU referendum – despite David Cameron’ – headlines greeting readers of Britain’s upmarket and popular press over the past few weeks.

Three years ago, strategists on both sides identified 18-44 year olds as a key constituency to be courted at the anticipated referendum, with UKIP said to be considering a pop star as the face of its Brexit campaign. Alesha Dixon, 5ive and East 17’s decision to pull out of a Leave.eu-funded concert in Birmingham throws doubt on the wisdom of this strategy while YouGov polling in April found a distinct generational split, with a majority of voters under 43 being pro-Remain, increasingly so the closer they are to voting age, and voters above 44 more likely to be Leavers as the years ascend.

But the biggest question around young people and the referendum is turnout. A poll last week commissioned by the Electoral Reform Society found less than half of 18-24 and 25-34 year olds said they would definitely vote, compared to 80 per cent of those over 65. In the same survey, just 16 per cent of 18-24 year olds said they felt well-informed about the referendum. Following changes to the electoral registration system last December, 30 per cent of 18-24 year olds may not be registered to vote as the deadline to sign up expires on Tuesday.

In this podcast, recorded after last week’s Guardian poll showed a 2 percentage point lead for Leave, four guests of different ages and positions on the political spectrum discuss the impact of the EU and the outcome of the referendum on the lives of young people. Luke Shore, former board member of the Organising Bureau of European School Student Unions and now a first-year undergraduate, hopes young people can wrest the debate for themselves and have it on their own terms. Both he and Morning Star reporter Joana Ramiro feel that the EU has been made a scapegoat for domestic policy and investment failures. Ramiro suggests TTIP represents a greater threat to individuality in the free market than EU regulation and fears a further undermining of British workers’ rights following Brexit. Consultant, graduate guide author and organiser of a 2014 conference on the EU Don Levett cautions against generalising about young people’s views, laments a kneejerk conflation of opposition to immigration and racism, and points to factors such as failures in housing market supply and the UK’s adaptation to a “flat white economy” as the key economic challenges transcending Britain’s EU membership. Charles Leach, an adviser to small businesses and founder of Outfacts.org.uk decries levels of youth unemployment in continental EU countries and calls on young people to educate themselves about the key facts. The guests consider how democracy currently functions within the UK and the EU, and how its purposes would best be served. They give their verdict on the official campaigns, say what they would like to hear more about over the next two weeks, and give their predictions for the outcome.

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