Condescendin: Why Remain Risks Losing My Generation's Support

10/06/2016 16:15 | Updated 10 June 2016

young voter

Young voters will determine the outcome of the EU referendum. Support for the EU is strongest amongst voters aged 14-25. Yet we are also the least likely to vote. How many of us turnout on June the 23rd will, therefore, be crucial.

Remain campaigners know this and spent last week trying to enthuse young voters, get them registered and, eventually, into voting booths. But their attempts to connect with my generation are failing; unless Remain rethinks its approach, they risk handing victory to the Brexiteers.

Remain's appeals to young people have ranged from feeble to condescending. The "Votin" campaign, which launched last week, was quickly derided as "patronising" and "condescending" on Twitter. Sporting an obligatory hashtag, the the ad (below) urges the generation of "roamin", "sharin" and "ravin" to register to vote but comes off more like a video montage of someone's gap year than a pitch to a crucial section of the electorate.

According to Scott Towsin of venturethree, the ad agency who created the #Votin campaign, the video was going for an "'us and them', anti-establishment feel". This completely misunderstands the motivations of young voters. Our support for the EU is not the product of a cliché need to rebel against our elders (who are much more likely to vote in favour of Brexit).

Rather, young people are inclined to vote Remain because we are more comfortable being connected and interdependent with Europe (and the rest of the world). We also fret less about Britain giving up some sovereignty in order to cooperate with its European neighbours.

Most of all, we are a more financially insecure than generations before us and are therefore more sensitive to the economic risks that Brexit carries with it. Our generation would have to forge careers, afford homes and raise families in the uncertain future that Brexit promises.

Most recently, the Remain campaign wheeled out Ed Miliband - credentialed as "down with the youf" by Russell Brand - to appeal to young voters. Whilst his contribution was more substantive (and significantly less condescending) than #Votin, his, "call to arms" for young voters was about as inspiring as, well, Ed Miliband.


With the June 7th deadline for voter registration deadline looming, Remain's continued failure to engage one of the most pro-EU segments of society could undo its campaign. Campaigners need to change their strategy for engaging younger voters or risk turnout sinking below the level needed to ensure Brexit.

It would be worthwhile leaving the ad-agency gimmicks to one side. The Remain campaign clearly understands the need to make the referendum relevant for young voters but their approach has been to treat us all as teenagers, who need loud music and flashy visuals to hold our attention.

Young voters clearly understand that the EU referendum is important, so attempts to put a "fun" spin on it will always seem disingenuous. No amount of techno music or hashtags can change that. The Remain campaign should focus on making a serious, but streamlined case for remaining, focused on the economy and opportunities to work and study abroad offered by the EU.

Moreover, we should get rid of the idea that young voters will only respond to a "positive" message about the EU. Focussing on the risks associated with Brexit has its weaknesses (cue cries of "Project Fear!"), but there is little reason to suggest that it is any less effective with young voters, beyond woolly notions of the "optimism" of youth.

Finally, the Remain campaign needs a frank message for young voters to jolt us into voting. Whilst Ed Miliband's speech alone is not going to encourage the young to get out of bed and down to the polling station on the 23rd, his message (if made more forcefully) might: "a decision not to vote is a decision to let someone else decide your future".

HuffPost UK Young Voices is running a fortnight-long focus on the EU Referendum, examining what is at stake for Britain's young people on 23 June and why it's imperative you register to vote and have your say. If you want to have your say and blog on our platform around this topic, email Register to vote here.