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The Age Gap: How the Old Defied the Young on Brexit & Trump

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It’s been a year of shocks. For a long time, it could be said that young people lived in a liberal bubble. It was comfortable there. But in the short storm of just a few months, the real world has come knocking. It’s easy to fall into the assumption that everybody believes in the same things as you. But, whichever side of the political spectrum you fall, it’s likely that you’ve been surprised by the drama of this year's political ruptures.

It all began with the EU referendum. Approximately 64% of registered voters between 18-24 voted. Of these, 71% voted to remain in the European Union. The consensus was strong: young people didn’t want the UK to go it alone. So what happened?

Read More: Why Brexit is a Wake Up Call for Young People

Perhaps you need to ask your grandparents. Over-65’s were more than twice as likely as under-25’s to have voted to leave the European Union. Staggeringly, 90% of over-65’s voted. Sure, it was slightly less unanimous than the younger vote: 64% of them wanted out. But, still, it sends a clear message. The old and the young, for the most part, wanted very different results.

Many argue that 16-17 year olds, barred from voting, could have swung the result . They were allowed to vote in the Scottish independence referendum , so why not on Brexit? LSE professor Michael Bruter and his colleague Dr. Sarah Harrison, crunching the numbers post-Brexit , said that allowing them to vote would have added “nearly 1.6 million potential citizens to the electorate,” potentially reducing the Leave majority to within a margin of error. Maybe, just maybe, the truly forgotten voters could have changed the course of history.

The UK is not alone. The exact same divisive sentiments were echoed across the Atlantic. Although the statistics are less polarised, it seems that fans of Donald Trump share overlapping priorities with those who supported Brexit. The exit polls were striking in their clarity: younger voters went for Hillary Clinton, older voters marched for Trump. Is there a pattern at play here? 

If only millennials voted, the electoral map would look very different. Many young people (but not all) were pretty devastated by Trump winning the Presidency. The below projection, based on exit polls, suggest there may be blue skies ahead once the red mist clears.

Why does this divide exist? Many theorists believe that it’s a rebellion against the failure of trickle-down globalisation . With lightning advances in technology, it’s clear that many people feel left behind. Certainly, the economy boosts so widely reported in the UK and the US do not seem to have reached the common voter. Can you blame them for registering their discontent, when they feel forgotten? It’s difficult to accost baby boomers who long for the past when they feel as if they have no place in the future.

Examining other demographic data makes for fascinating reading. Both Brexit and Trump voters were often white and Christian. Minorities went the other way. Brexit saw 73% of black voters and 67% of Asian voters back remain, whilst, in the US, an incredible 88% of black voters and 65% of the hispanic and Asian electorate voted against Trump. Minorities, like young people, were outmuscled at the ballot box. 

Read More: From Brexit Britain to America - How To React If The Other Side Wins

Similarly, both sets of voters were less educated. In the UK, just 3 of 35 places where more than half of its population possessed a higher education degree voted to leave the EU. Likewise, the longer an American had been in education, the less likely he or she was to vote Trump. Of course, there’s a very fair correlation between the less educated and a desire for a change. Why wouldn’t you long for something different, anything different, when you could only see your own situation getting worse?

It’s understandable that young people feel like their future is being pulled from under their feet by a generation that won’t have to walk over the splinters. Powerlessness and a perceived lack of control can easily devolve into apathy. But it’s vital that it does not. Ideological opposition must breed resistance. Not to force the other side away, but to challenge them. Not to silence the voice of the elderly, but to stand strong on the issues that mean the most to you. Respect your elders, sure. But, equally, demand that they respect you, too.