Driven by data; ridden with liberty.
In May 2015, new voters will take to the polls for the General Election. With more than 3 million young voters able to vote for a national government for the first time, these nascent members of British democracy will help decide the next government. The polling company Opinium conducted an online survey of 503 Britons aged between 17 and 22, on their voting intentions, social beliefs and political participation. This was an exclusive polling for The Observer newspaper. It should be noted that Opinium sought respondents who would not have been old enough to vote in the 2010 General Election, but a small percentage claimed to have already cast a national vote.
Opinium’s full 453-page report implies distinctive attributes in this cohort, when compared against the general adult population. Of likely voters who chose a political party, 41% of this cohort supported Labour, whilst 26% backed the Conservatives. The gap between the two largest parties in the voting populace is much smaller: 29% intend to vote Conservative whilst 33% plan to cast ballots for Labour. The Liberal Democrats hold a meagre 6%: this is for both Opinium’s younger cohort and the general electorate.
This cohort of young prospective voters have also chosen a different party for political insurrections. UKIP have gathered the general support of 19% of likely voters, but only 3% of Opinium’s respondents embrace the purple party. Instead, 19% endorse the Green Party.
This should not be interpreted as the widespread belief within younger people in either Labour’s social democratic politics or the Green’s communitarian environmentalism. Questions reveal respondents tend towards social liberalism: 77% support the legalisation of same-sex marriages, 72% believe discrimination is “one of the biggest problems facing society today”, and 77% agree “there is nothing wrong with sex outside of marriage”. This young cohort is also comfortable with the European Union: 62% say that British membership of the EU is generally good; 66% would elect for Britain to remain within the EU, if a referendum were held.
This liberalism does not extend to drug legalisation: 51% say their view resembles the continuation of prison sentences for narcotic possession. Newer voters are more positive towards immigration: 48% say immigration has been generally good, compared to 30% overall.
As in the adult population, the Prime Minister David Cameron is the least disliked party leader, carrying a net approval rating of -6%. Whilst UKIP leader Nigel Farage had a net rating of -16% for all adults, the comparative figure was -51% for first-time potential voters. Further questions find 28% trust the Conservative’s David Cameron and George Osborne on economic matters, whereas 19% entrust Labour’s Ed Miliband and Ed Balls. Also, 59% of these young voters regard “the government should reduce the deficit primarily by reducing spending” as near their belief, which is higher than the 53% who believe similarly in the wider electorate. There are parallels across the generations too: both groups overwhelmingly support the British monarchy.
It is incumbent on political parties to take nascent voters seriously.