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How Young People Turned up to Vote this Time - And Why It Matters

McGill student vote mob 2011
Adam Scotti

Nobody predicted this. Just seven weeks after the polls anticipated a Conservative landslide, with Theresa May more than 20 points ahead of Jeremy Corbyn, Britain faces a “hung Parliament.” Labour gained 29 seats , the Conservatives lost 12.

Whodunnit? 

After a year of election results that have stunned the world, the phrase “seismic shift” is becoming a political cliche. But after the unexpected result in the UK general election, there’s a new geographical metaphor doing the rounds: “a youthquake.” 

While reliable data on turnout by age is not yet available, it is believed that turnout amongst young people could have reached 72%. If the initial estimates are correct, this marks a huge surge in voter turnout amongst young voters, compared with 43% in 2015, and 64% in the EU referendum. The result? A reminder that, when mobilised, nobody knows how to shake up the establishment better than the young. 

Caricatured as “snowflakes,” lazing around in our parents’ homes, too sensitive yet too apathetic,  some assumed our generation would sit this one out. But on the day the snap election was called, 57,987 people under 25 registered to vote.  And on the day of the deadline to register, over a quarter of a million young people signed up. 

Widespread disappointment at the Brexit vote, questions around tuition fees, concerns about the NHS, jobs, the environment, and the changing tone of politics created a sense of urgency that seemed to galvanise the youth vote. 

Since securing the Labour leadership twice with a clear mandate, Jeremy Corbyn’s appeal to the young has been well documented. Perceived by some as more “honest” and straight-talking than his political counterparts, his vision “for the many” appears to have appealed to people who had never voted before. Genuine grassroots campaigns like Grime for Corbyn brought audiences that politicians typically ignore into the conversation, bringing politics to the world young people actually inhabit.

“He’s the first person that’s actually directed his campaign at the youth,” said one new Corbyn supporter in a video published by the Guardian. 

When mobilised, young people will vote for a party that seems to listen to their concerns. Whatever your views on the Labour leader, many are claiming that his message resonated with a generation that until now had been disillusioned by the current state of affairs. In areas with high proportions of people under the age of 25 years, the Labour vote increased by 14%.

If there was ever a time the political establishment should take young people seriously, it’s now. 

Michael Sani, the social entrepreneur behind Bite the Ballot which aims to increase voter turnout amongst young people said: “[Yesterday’s result] was a statement of intent from young people who have had politics done to them for  too long.” 

"They have not been a political priority, they’ve been where the axe falls time and time again. They have rightfully taken their place at the table and I welcome it."

In the last seven weeks, young people have helped achieve the unexpected: turning the tide of British politics when the odds were seemingly stacked against the future they wanted. We’re now a credible voice in the political landscape. All political parties could benefit from the perspective of young voters. It’s time to drop the “Snowflake” label and pay attention, because 2017 looks like it might be the year of the “Youthquake”.