Why "Generation Y" could swing the general election

Jessica Morris
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Young votes could swing the next general election (Source: Getty)

Commentators are struggling to predict the outcome of next year's general election in May, as traditional parties such as Labour and the Tories lose voters in droves, and one-time fringe parties like the Scottish National Party report record membership numbers.

So could "Generation-Y", or those aged between 18-25 hold the key to Britain's next government?

"2015 is set to be the closest and most unpredictable election in living memory," according to a new report by think tank Demos supported by vInspired. "It is in this context that today's young people ... could find themselves with more electoral power than ever before."

Disillusionment vs apathy

Previous Demos research shows that while young people care about social and political issues they're much less likely to vote than older generations. This is because they tend to be disillusioned with politicians and political parties.

But it doesn't have to be this way. For example in the recent Scottish referendum, 16- and 17-year olds were able to vote for the first time, and three-quarters did so.

"The fact that young people do care deeply about social and political issues shows that the opportunity for engagement does exist," the report said.

Young people will vote

While more young people will vote in next year's general election many are still yet to decide for who.

Demos surveyed over a thousand 18- to 25-year olds and found that voter intention was reasonably high. More than half (52 per cent) say they will vote and a further one in four say they will probably vote.

The fact that many are yet to decide who they're going to vote for has opened up space for party campaigning.

"Over half of young people are undecided about whom to vote for; the youth vote is still up for grabs," the report said.

No left or right

Young voters are blurring traditional left-right policy divisions by favouring sometimes conflicting policies.

While a majority of young people favour individual responsibility over state assistance, more than half also said they were concerned about rising inequality in Britain. Additionally, many would plump for party policies focusing on job guarantees and minimum wage hikes.

What young people want

Young people have to grapple with high unemployment rates and rising house prices pushing home ownership ever more out of reach.

As such, going into the general election, it's hardly surprising that living costs, affordable housing, unemployment and the NHS are at the top of young peoples' concerns.

However, Ukip could be disappointed, with welfare, immigration, the EU, extremism and crime less likely to sway young voters.

"More young people are concerned about online privacy and the gap between rich and poor than any of these subjects," the report said.

Party policies that could woo young voters include guaranteed jobs or apprenticeships for the long-term unemployed, reducing the cost of higher education and raising the national minimum wage.

Tech advantage

This year, social media proves to be a minefield for politicians struggling to get to grips with the likes of Twitter and Facebook.

Earlier this year Prime Minister David Cameron accidentally set off a series of memes and parodies after tweeting a serious-looking picture of himself on the phone to Barack Obama.

And Labour MP Emily Thornberry resigned amid accusations of snobbery after she tweeted a picture of a white van parked outside the driveway of a house emblazoned with several England flags during the Rochester and Strood by-election.

But politicians who want to win over young voters will have to up their social media game.

"Two-thirds of young people felt that they would be more likely to vote if they could vote online [and] one quarter said they would be more likely to vote if politicians were more effective on social media," the report said.

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