Much has been made recently over Britain’s perceived shift rightwards, to anti-immigration, anti-EU parties (I’m looking at you, Ukip), with little attention being paid to the 3 million young, first-time voters who have the potential to shape the future political course of the country come next May.
The results of a survey out yesterday by Opinium for the Observer show that those in the 17-22 age bracket tend to be pro-European, socially liberal, and prioritise issues such as the NHS, unemployment and poverty as more important than immigration or race relations.
Labour has been given a bit of a battering in recent weeks with many, especially in Scotland, deserting the party due to disillusionment with its leader. The survey will provide some light relief to Ed Miliband as it shows that Labour has a 15-point lead (by 41% to 26%) over the Conservatives amongst the young.
The Greens also have high levels of support at 19%, while unsurprisingly, young people have still not forgiven Nick Clegg for his tuition fees U-turn, giving the party an abysmally low rating of 6%, only 3% higher than Ukip’s 3%.
When it comes to leader approval ratings, Nigel Farage sinks like a stone. While 2014 has been a stellar year for Mr Farage, with his party overtaking the Lib Dems to become Britain’s third party at 15%, he has been given a drubbing by young people, with a net approval rating of -51%. What makes for interesting reading however, is that Nick Clegg is on -44% and Ed Miliband on -18%, while David Cameron is on -6%, despite his party being less popular than Labour.
Labour’s biggest challenge is to now ensure that the young people who gave the party such a positive rating, get out and vote come May 2015. While the results of this survey may make exciting reading for Mr Miliband, in 2010, only 44% of 18-24 year olds turned out to cast their votes.
However, despite Labour being viewed more favourably by young people, in terms of economic competence, it is still the Conservatives who are trusted the most. Cameron and Osborne’s approach of cutting the deficit by primarily cutting spending is favoured by 59%, compared with 18% who support raising taxes.
In terms of social attitudes, we can definitely see a marked shift leftwards. 77% of young people support the legalisation of same-sex marriage, and 77% of young people also think that sex outside marriage is acceptable. When looking at the rest of the voting population, the figures are 50% and 67% respectively. However, one must also note that young people do still value some traditional views, with 67% saying that getting married and having children is important to them, and 52% agreeing that it is important that children have two parents. The nuclear family is alive and well amongst the young.
The results of this survey will result in a lot of head-scratching in all of the major parties’ HQs as to how to best exploit the youth vote at the next general election. What is certain though, is that next year’s election will be more digital and social media orientated than ever, rather like the US election of 2012, in an effort to get more young people than ever engaged.
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