- A surge in young people registering to vote ahead of the UK general election has led to predictions that a “youthquake” of young voters could remove Boris Johnson from office.
- Over 3 million people applied to vote since the election was called, 67% of which were made by people under the age of 34, who tend to be significantly more likely to support Labour than the Conservatives.
- The surge was driven by calls on social media from multiple celebrities for young people to register to vote.
- However, academics told Business Insider that the surge in voting registrations did not necessarily mean a ‘youthquake’ will happen in December.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
There has been a surge in young people registering to vote in the upcoming UK general election, leading to predictions that a “youthquake” could cause Boris Johnson to be removed from office.
A record number of people applied on the last day before registrations closed, following calls to register from celebrities including rappers Stormzy and Game of Thrones actor Emilia Clarke.
A huge last-minute spike saw the numbers of people registering to vote rise to 660,000.
As registration closed on Tuesday, figures from the Cabinet Office showed that over 3 million people had applied to vote since the election was called.
Sixty-seven percent of those were made by people under the age of 34, who tend to be significantly more likely to support Labour than the Conservatives.
In the 2017 election, a similar surge in young voters enthused by Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour-led to the party performing significantly better than polls earlier in the campaign had indicated.
Polls in this current election campaign have also shown Corbyn’s party increasing its support among younger voters.
So could there really be a youthquake in this election, or will young people fail to turn up to polling stations?
Celebrities drove huge spikes in voter registration
Many of the spikes in registrations among young people in recent days were driven by a growing trend of celebrities urging their fans to vote on social media.
Applications surged after high-profile figures including footballer Raheem Sterling and the singer Adele urged their fans to sign up to the electoral register.
—Adele (@Adele) November 26, 2019
On paper, that looks beneficial to Labour, who count significantly higher support among younger people than the Conservatives.
The pollsters YouGov found that after the 2017 election, Labour was 47% ahead among first-time voters aged 18 and 19, but over 50% behind those voters aged 70.
Voter registration has also been driven by Labour activists’ face-to-face drive to sign up voters at colleges, universities, mosques, churches and job centres.
Corbyn will hope that this will increase turnout among these groups, meaning he could yet defy the polls, which show him still trailing the Conservatives.
More young people are voting with every election
The Labour leader has some reason for optimism. A study of the 2017 election by Patrick Sturgis and Dr Will Jennings, academics at the University of Southampton, Labour did inspire more young people to vote than had previously been acknowledged.
Their study of the Understanding Society panel, a household survey with a big sample size of 40,000, found that turnout among people was substantially higher for the youngest voters in 2017 than in the 2015 election, which itself was significantly increased from the 2010 election.
Will Jennings told Business Insider that it was possible youth turnout could increase in December’s election. But he said it was not clear whether Labour would enjoy the same level of support among younger voters as it did in 2017.
“There is a pattern of seemingly increased youth turnout which goes back certainly to 2010,” he said.
“It would not be beyond the realms of possibility again, or at least be higher than the lows of 10 years ago.
“We know that from the polls that are being released now, younger people are still more likely to vote Labour. But it’s not clear Labour will have the advantage they had in 2017.
The youthquake may not come
The surge in young people registering to vote may not actually indicate a “youthquake” is on the cards, according to experts who spoke to Business Insider.
Professor John Curtice, a leading pollster based at the University of Strathclyde, said that many of those people who had registered to vote were already on the electoral register and had no need to re-apply.
“This story gets journalists excited at every election and it shouldn’t,” Curtice said. “We know from the 2015 and 2017 that most of the people who apply online before the deadline are on the register anyway.”
Based on 2017 figures on “duplicate” entries from the Electoral Commission, 36.9% of “new” registrations were duplicates. If that was scaled up to this year’s figures, it would mean 1.2 million new voters were already signed up.
Many registrations will also be due to people moving or wanting to change the way they vote, too, meaning their registration does not form part of a picture of increased political engagement.
And Dr Jennings also warned that while the headline figures could indicate an increase in political engagement, it was not possible to determine how significant that increase was.
He said: “What we can deduce is pretty limited: Given that the numbers are up on where we were last time, there could be an increase in political engagement.
“What one can’t do is read how big that increase is — certainly not in the millions.
“And we can’t presume how those people are going to vote either. That’s why one has to be very cautious.”
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