Young voters matter, and the recent UK election might have proved it.
Early projections suggest that last week’s election inspired 72 to 75 percent of Britain’s young voters to come to the polls and cast their vote; approximately 66 percent of voters aged 18-24 voted Labour.
Compare that to the 50 percent of young voters who voted in the 2016 US presidential election. Yikes.
Labour ended up gaining more seats than expected while the Conservatives lost seats, leading to a hung parliament in an election that was originally believed to be a decisive win for the Conservative party.
People are pointing to one major reason as to why young voters–a demographic which usually refers to votes under 30–might have helped determine the results of the election: the Labour party, led by Jeremy Corbyn, actually giving a damn about them.
This wasn’t just about giving charismatic speeches or actually being particularly cool. I mean, despite all his dad jokes, President Obama felt like a cool guy: He gave great speeches, had good taste in music, and was (and still is) lowkey handsome, which certainly didn’t hurt his appeal among young voters in 2008 or 2012–including me! Corbyn, on the other hand, sort of just feels like your friend’s socially awkward but endearing dad who makes himself scarce during your playdate. But it turns out that a cool factor doesn’t effing matter when it comes to providing a message and a vision of the future that young people can actually look forward to. That’s why despite being not-so-cool himself, Bernie Sanders was able to acquire support among young voters as well; but I’m not going to compare Corbyn and Sanders tat-for-tat because more than enough thinkpieces have already done so.
By campaigning heavily on issues that young people care about, like doing away with higher education tuition fees, heavily funding public services (like the NHS, the healthcare system in the UK), raising minimum wage, opting for a soft Brexit, and not proposing cutting down the number of immigrants coming to the UK. The Labour party under Corbyn gained trust among so many young voters because he didn’t take them for granted. One 21-year-old woman who voted Labour told the New York Times that they gave her a reason to vote, saying, “Representatives from the Labour Party knocked on our doors and gathered us in groups, asking us about our problems and talking to us about solutions.”
It’s that kind of attitude that is looked down on from many older voters and politicians. Young voters are characterized as lazy reactionaries who just want “free stuff.” It’s strange that not wanting to be tens of thousands of dollars in debt after going to university is an unreasonable, oh-so-Millennial desire. And yet, despite being a pretty split party, Labour managed to siphon that youthful energy and passion and campaign strongly with their interests in mind. Guess who had the last laugh. Yup, the cynics and skeptics who derided politicians who dared waste campaign promises on such an unreliable demographic.
I’m an American, but after seeing how much of an impact young voters made on the election in the UK, I was full of a renewed energy despite living in what can feel like a Trumptastic world. How cool would it be if a politician didn’t take our generation for granted? What if focusing on young voters was encouraged instead of written off as a lost cause. I feel like the general mood of several US presidential elections was, “Oh, young people don’t vote, so who cares?” Hm, maybe the problem isn’t that young people are just naturally uninterested in politics, it’s that politicians don’t bother appealing to our interests in any real way. And yeah, appealing to our interests isn’t just throwing in a couple of lines in a speech about students, or trying to galvanize support by getting Miley Cyrus to visit some dorm rooms in a swing state. We need actual policy that speaks to us and politicians reaching out to youth-oriented organizations. We need politicians to listen to us and then decide what kind of future they envision, as opposed to politicians creating a vision that they think benefits us and just hoping young voters blindly go along with it.
I hope that politicians took a look at what can happen and saw what amazing results can occur once they actually start caring about young people’s needs and concerns. Who knows, maybe taking a note out of the Labour party’s playbook can encourage whoever is running for congress in 2018 or president in 2020 to actually pay attention to us! And if they don’t pay attention to us, we should pressure them into doing it. Call your congressman (it matters, seriously), create online petitions, tweet at them, ask them what they’re going to do to earn your vote, etc.
Yes, this is the good kind of peer pressure, guys. Like, seriously, peer pressure politicians.
And don’t forget: Politicians work for us, and we can have an impact in deciding who gains and loses power. Don’t underestimate your ability to create change, and don’t let anyone take you for granted. Your vision of the future matters just as much, if not more, than that of some Baby Boomers.
Do you think politicians should do more to appeal to young people? Or do you think that young people should start caring more about the world around them first? Tell us in the comments!