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The HuffPost Election Panel: What Do Young Voters Think Of Farage, the Lib Dems, And An EU Referendum?

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Jessica Elgot

Most young people eligible to vote in the European and local elections stayed at home, despite being far more likely to be pro-European than older people. The generation may be frustrated with the status quo, but they are mostly staying silent and angry.

A poll by ICM Research found that 41% of 18 to 24-year-olds were either firmly in favour of EU membership or leaning towards support, against 32 per cent who took the opposite view. But there is a generation gap, with an anti-EU majority of 25 points among the over-65s, with 60% strongly against continued membership.

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It's a sentiment reflected by our panel, most are pro-European but feel frustrated with the institution and with the political parties running it.

Here's the second part of our monthly debate on the issues that affect young voters. We'll be regularly checking in with the undecided members of our panel to see how the political hot topics in the news - from rows over immigration to new unemployment figures to Boris Johnson's gaffes - affect their final decision as to which party they put their X next to in 12 months time.

Our panel's individual votes do, in fact, have the power to make a crucial difference come May 2015. All five are residents of Hampstead and Kilburn, a marginal seat with a wafer-thin Labour majority of 43, and all three major parties have a chance of snatching victory.

This month, we asked them about the success of Ukip, the possibility of a referendum on EU membership, the rise of the Greens, the unpopularity of Nick Clegg and a possible Lib Dem leadership challenged.

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Megan Trace, 18, A-Level student at Queen’s Park Community School

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"I was mostly motivated to vote in this election by the novelty of this being my first vote. Other than that, I wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about the European Parliament election because we hear so little about what goes on in Brussels. Other than my own research, I didn’t feel particularly informed about who the MEPs standing for the London region were.

"I don't think the rise of Ukip is bad for democracy. I think that it’s a brilliant thing that there are more parties to choose from. It makes the excuse of ‘I don’t agree with any of the parties’ or ‘I didn’t know who to vote for’ become more and more invalid, and means that voters of every type are more likely to find a party that they agree with.

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"That being said though, I do think UKIP were used as a protest vote in the European Parliament elections, and there were a significant number of people who were unaware of the values of the party and their policies bar those on Europe.

"Farage's charisma and personality played a big role in the appeal of Ukip. He’s been portrayed as a ‘man of the people’ with a pint of ale in hand, making him appear like an ordinary and relatable person you’d see at the pub. I think the media have had a huge role to play too;.

"I definitely think we should have a referendum on Europe. We spend vast sums of money funding our European Union membership and it is important to recognize whether we are getting good value for money. The EU plays a greater role in UK political affairs than a lot of people might realise, so it’s important to consult people. I’m personally of a pro-European view, I think we should embrace our role within the European Union and perhaps even become more closely integrated.

"I actually have great admiration for Nick Clegg for taking Nigel Farage on in the TV debates over Europe. He was the only party leader brave enough to challenge the UKIP party leader, with Labour and the Conservatives both refusing to take the party on. Miliband and Cameron have shied away from facing Nigel Farage directly and so although many would argue Clegg was well and truly defeated in the Europe TV debates, he was still stronger than the other two leaders.

"If there was a Lib Dem leadership challenge, it could go either way. If someone like Vince Cable was to step in, a senior member of the cabinet who makes more media appearances than Nick Clegg himself appears to make, it’d probably make me more likely to vote Lib Dem in the next election.

"I gave my vote to the Green Party for the MEP elections. Unfortunately, purely based on the fact that the General Election is based on a first-past-the-post electoral system, I don’t think I’d find myself voting for the Green Party in a general election. Although I strongly believe in their policies, there isn’t a particularly strong Green Party presence in my constituency and therefore I don’t think they’d be likely to return an MP to Westminster."

Tess McCarthy, 23, university graduate and marketing executive

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"I did vote in the EU elections, and I personally felt well-informed enough to be able to do so. The European Union is far more important than people realise and I don't think we're getting the best deal we could be. I strongly feel that our relationship with the EU should be renegotiated. But people don't understand that, they panic and think we should just leave.

"I do think there should be a referendum on our membership, but also a huge push to educate people what would mean and what would change. People hear headlines, not the whole article, they don't really know the reality, that’s why Ukip got so many votes. The fact that Labour have said they won't offer a referendum is not good, but it wouldn't be the thing that put me off voting for them because I personally think we should stay in. There's lots of reasons perhaps not to vote Labour, but that wouldn't be the defining thing for me.

"I think the EU needs to be far less restrictive, it shouldn't interfere as much with the law we create and we need to free up our trade relationships in order to grow as a country.

"The media love Farage, because they love a clown. I don't think he's charismatic, he's got the shock factor, he says outrageous things, and he makes massive headlines. The Green party, for example, don't have that. Headlines about the Greens won't make money for the paper.

"Nick Clegg looks like a man who has given up, he has not pushed for anything this year. David Cameron almost makes a point of putting him down, proving what the power dynamic is. You don't want someone like that as a leader, someone who lies down and takes it like a puppy. David Cameron, for all his faults, does show leadership.

"But I don’t think Lib Dems would do any better if they got rid of Nick Clegg. He's the face of the party, but he has advisers and he has backers and you wouldn't need to get rid of just him but you'd need to change the whole ethos of the party. They would have to completely denounce him and use him as the scapegoat entirely in order to give the next person any ounce of credibilty. It's all too predictable."

Sajed Ammari, 17, AS-Level student at St Augustines High School

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"I actually don't think that Ukip have done as well as is being made out. They won a lot of council seats and MEPs, but they didn't win control of any councils. They're only likely to get maybe one MP, maybe none.

"And people voted for them in the European elections because Ukip is mainly dealing with a specific issue. They are tackling the main issue in the European Parliament which is immigration. The UK wants action taken on immigration, so they vote for them. But I don't think this will happen in a General Election, because they are a one issue party.

"If I'm being totally honest, I don't really pay attention to the EU parliament. I really don't see it as being as significant to my life as the Westminster parliament and I don't know very much about it. On balance, I think we probably should be members of the European Union. But I don't feel particularly positive about it as an institution, and I think that's why turn out at the elections was so low, at just 34%.

"I do think there should be a referendum, and if it's the will of the people to leave, then we should definitely leave. But I don't think it's an important issue, in the scheme of things, whatsoever. A party offering an EU referendum wouldn't affect my decision at all whether to vote for them.

"I think it's interesting that the Greens did well. The environment is obviously an important issue but from what I can see, Labour has the same policies and have a lot more gravitas. Labout also have a lot more resources, and get their message out better. I can’t see why you would vote Green and not vote Labour, if that's what's important to you.

"The Lib Dems are broken right now, they lost all their MEPs apart from one. A lot of party members think Nick Clegg should be out, but personally, I don't see really what he has done wrong. I think it is more a problem with the party itself. Other parties became so central, there is no reason to vote Lib Dem."

Liam Michaels, 17, AS-Level pupil at King Alfred School

liam michaels

"I personally believe that UKIP is a wake up call, the other three parties, with the exception of Clegg, need to do more to tackle the issue that Farage is raising and attempt to hold on to the voters. I am still undecided about whether I think there should be a referendum. But I also think that the issue of the EU and immigration has not been debated fully, and lack of understanding has led to people falling under the trance of Farage.

"Farage is one of the most charismatic politicians in the UK today. This does not take away from the fact that I think he is simply a racist, who is able to disguise himself using his bloke-y, pub-going, fag-smoking persona. He suggests he is "anti-establishment" when he is exactly the opposite.

"Unlike many people, I believe that Clegg was successful and should be given respect for engaging in the debates. He was able to argue his corner and I think it proved him to be the leader with the biggest balls, due to the fact he participated.

"Other than the legendary Dame Shirley Williams, there are few others in the party who have any real charisma. Obviously Danny Alexander is fairly well established in "the Quad".

I have been persuaded by friends of mine that Clegg has in fact been ruthlessly victimised by the press, and when I think about it, what he did was completely understandable. However, before the 2010 election, he was the most popular leader since Churchill, and now he is the least popular and facing mutinous other Liberal Democrat challengers. I think it is too early to say what a new leader would bring to the party, but it could mean they do win back some support.

"If there was a general election now, I would probably vote Green, however that really would be as a protest vote. I know they would have no chance. Having said that, I know fairly little about the Green party. I watched their election broadcast video and went through their manifesto and I know of the leader Natalie Bennett, but they do seem to be the fringe party who many consider not to even warrant a vote."

Sasha Isaacs, 17, AS-Level student at St Edward's, but about to start childcare apprenticeship

sasha isaacs

"I am still completely undecided as to what party I will be voting for next year, but am fairly sure it will be either Labour or the Tories, not one of the 'protest' parties.

"I do think that UKIP is a protest vote. I believe that the nation are fed up of fairly similar politicians bickering non-stop and they thought Farage was something different. He is charming and his pure passion for his policies does excite me somehow.

"I personally do not think there should be a referendum on Europe as I believe it is essential that the UK stays in the EU.

"Nigel Farage reminded me of how Clegg was in the build up to the 2010 General Election. He was clearly very confident due to the fact there was so much attention on his party and I believe Clegg was made to look much weaker being destroyed in a debate with an extremist politician.

"I don't think a change of leader for the Lib Dems would help their prospects. I do not like any other of the Lib Dems and cannot imagine any of their current MPs being successful leaders in today's politics.

"I also do not really know anything at all about the Green Party due to the fact they aren't publicised all the time like the other parties in our county are, so I am open-minded about voting for them."

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