More young people in Britain voted in this month’s election than in any general election in the last three decades, according to figures published by Ipsos Mori Tuesday.
An estimated 64% of registered 18- to 24-year-olds turned out to vote, compared to 43% two years ago. And over 60% of them voted for the opposition Labour party.
Predictions of a big victory for Theresa May’s Conservative Party before the election were based partly on assumptions that most young voters wouldn’t turn out.
Instead, far more young people cast their vote than expected, with 62% of 18- to 24-year-olds voting Labour, versus 41% of overall voters.
By turning out in larger numbers than expected – and mostly voting for Labour – these young people contributed to an election result that shocked most pundits and pollsters. Instead of losing seats, Labour gained 30, while the Conservatives lost 13 and the parliamentary majority they had held since 2015.
“Without a doubt, this 2017 general election will also be recalled as the event that captured the imagination of a new generation of young people who announced their return to the electoral stage in a way not seen in decades,” Matt Henn, an expert in young people and politics at Nottingham Trent University, told CNN.
It’s ‘cool to vote Labour’
Tom Davies, 21, is one of many young Britons who voted for the first time in the election two weeks ago. Britain’s vote last year to leave the European Union had such huge consequences, he explained, and it showed him the importance of voting.
Davies supported Labour, like many of his friends. “It’s becoming cool to vote Labour,” he said.
Movements such as #Grime4Corbyn may have contributed to this shift. Superstars of the grime music scene such as JME, Stormzy and Akala all tweeted, Instagrammed or Snapped their support for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in the days leading up to the election.
Corbyn also appeared on the front covers of music magazines Kerrang! and NME with the headlines “Take the power back!” and “We offer hope.”
Labour actively reached out to younger voters, promising to scrap university tuition fees, raise the minimum wage, reinstate housing benefits for under-21s and build hundreds of thousands of affordable homes, using targeted Facebook adverts to reach the demographic.
And Corbyn himself called on young people to “step up,” register to vote and “claim your future” in a speech in April.
Leah Ingham, 26, found the Labour campaign inspiring. She voted for Corbyn’s party and, having never been a member of any political party before, joined Labour two days after the election.
“Feeling inspired by @jeremycorbyn and optimistic for the future!” she tweeted.
Corbyn “seems to actually care about normal people and young people, which I have never felt before from any political party,” she told CNN.
“I feel like we have somebody fighting for us now, and we can and will make a difference.”
‘A win for democracy’
A number of nonpartisan organizations and individuals also made it their mission to encourage young people to get engaged in the weeks before polling day.
After the general election was announced on April 18, two entrepreneurs from London – Jeremy Evans, 25, and Matthew Morley, 23 – set up a website called ge2017.com that hosted a voter advice tool that was used 2.1 million times.
Another ge2017.com tool helped students decide whether to vote at their university or in their home constituency and it drew 200,000 users.
Evans believes the vast majority of people who visited the site were young voters.
One of the project’s partners was Bite the Ballot, founded in 2010 to get young people engaged in politics.
Co-founder Michael Sani is thrilled by the surge in voting among young people. “It’s a win for democracy,” he said.
“Politics seems so far removed from everyday life” for many young people, he said, who are often “made to feel like they’re not clever enough to participate.”
But with this election, he sees that changing. “When politics becomes part of your (social media) timeline on a daily basis, when people you look up to or admire are talking about it, it becomes normal.”