What the UK election shows about millennial engagement
WORDS BY JOSHUA WOOLLER
When Britain voted to leave the European Union in June last year, it was young people that were affected most. No longer would they have access to unencumbered travel to the continent, nor would they be able to take advantage of studying and working overseas without the administrative difficulties associated with visas. Yet, in spite of all the damage inflicted on the futures of Britain’s youth, they had themselves to blame. Only an estimated 36% of people aged between 18-24 were bothered to have a say on their future and vote in the historic referendum according to the Independent. In comparison, 90% of over 65 year olds voted in the referendum.
Fast forward a year, and it appears millennial voters have learnt their lesson. Of course, Theresa May undoubtedly squandered a 20 point lead over Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party through policies of austerity, and what can only be described as an underwhelming election campaign. The fact that anyone thought an open policy of stopping funding of free lunches for school children would go down as ‘popular’ is beyond belief. Despite this, she was still expected to build on her majority by about 40 seats on the morning of the election. She lost 13 seats to Labour and the Liberal Democrats. How did the pollsters get it so wrong?
Polls that showed Theresa May ahead by 7 points on the morning of 8 June were based on the assumption that millennial turnout would match what had been seen in past elections and the vote on British membership of the European Union. Millennial turnout in the British election was estimated at around 70%, almost double what was experienced in 2016.
American presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, like Corbyn, also received a huge majority of the millennial vote in comparison to Hillary Clinton. In fact, more young people voted for Bernie Sanders than Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump combined in the primary process.
Was this meant to appeal to millenials?
We are witnessing a trend. Millennials are overwhelmingly turning out to support candidates that directly appeal to them. Political engagement, in the past dominated by establishment cronies that for young people ostensibly do not represent their interest, was not seen as cool or important. After all, the candidate elected would not care about young people either way. What both Sanders and Corbyn show is that it is possible to engage a demographic of voters that are traditionally apathetic to voting.
At the very least, we must welcome to engagement of millennials into political discourse. It will not only make our democracies more representative, but will ensure that all politicians, right or left, have to directly appeal to the most important demographic – young people.
The traditional political establishment is on its last legs, and that is mostly thanks to millennials.