General Election 2019: How Young First-Time Voters Are Feeling

After years of political turmoil and Brexit at the top of the election agenda, there may never have been a more difficult time to be a first-time voter.

“This will be my first general election vote,” says 18-year-old Jess Rigg, a gap year student. “I always thought I’d be so excited, but now I just feel fed up and anxious. I don’t really know which party to vote for and where it will leave Brexit – it’s all so stressful.”

This week, MPs gave Boris Johnson the event he has been begging for – a general election. On December 12, in the first Christmas election in almost 100 years, voters will head to the polls to decide who they want to lead the country.

Among them, thousands of young people who have lived through the political turmoil of the past few years and are now finally old enough to vote in a general election.

<strong>Jess Rigg always thought she would be "so excited" about a general election</strong>
Jess Rigg always thought she would be "so excited" about a general election

They watched on in 2016 when the country – by a hair’s breadth – decided to pull the UK out of the European Union and again in 2017 when voters refused to deliver Theresa May the huge majority she had been expecting, inadvertently making the Brexit process a whole lot more complex.

But, with Brexit very much at the forefront of the election campaign – and the result likely to determine when, how and if the UK leaves the EU – has there ever been a more difficult, or more significant, time to be a first-time voter?

“The idea of the forthcoming general election overall fills me with dread,” says English student Emma Hall.

<strong>English student Emma Hall says she's worried about what the election could mean for Brexit </strong>
English student Emma Hall says she's worried about what the election could mean for Brexit

“I would not trust the prime minister as far as I could throw him – and I say that as a 19-year-old girl with no upper body strength.”

His desire for a general election feels like “a further attempt to avoid scrutiny,″ she says.

Meanwhile, Emma worries that, with this election becoming a proxy second referendum, either side of the Leave/Remain debate could “proclaim a victory on such a small percentage of the vote”.

“Whatever it means for Brexit, whether it means the deal gets through or it ‘dies in a ditch’, as the PM said, I doubt anything will actually break the deadlock and end this wretched bin fire, for better or for worse,” the Exeter University student adds.

Anisah Vasta, a student at Birmingham City University, feels similarly worried that the election is going to be all about Brexit.

“I have waited a long time to have my say,” the 19-year-old says. “Now that I can, it feels surreal and I feel deflated by the Brexit talks.

<strong>Birmingham City University student Anisah Vasta</strong>
Birmingham City University student Anisah Vasta

“The election was only called on the pretence of Brexit, rather than the idea that the prime minister we have was not elected by the people of Britain.”

“It’s quite sad really,” Anisah adds. “Are we really a democratic country anymore?”

But who is she going to vote for? “My family, being working-class, have always voted for Labour,” she says. “I feel that is something I will carry forward.”

While she backs the party’s policies on the NHS, hate crime and education, she also thinks Labour has the best strategy on Brexit – to give voters a second referendum on leaving the EU, with a Brexit deal renegotiated by Labour on the ballot.

“It’s the idea that the people have the final say in the Brexit deal, that the people are put at the forefront of Brexit,” she says when asked why she backs their Brexit policy.

“Whether people voted Leave or Remain, it gives [them] a fair chance of understanding the deal, rather than blindly going forward with one we don’t fully understand.”

Jack Carson, a sports journalism student at the same university, has a very different outlook on the election – and who he plans to vote for.

<strong>Jack Carson, 19, is excited about the prospect of a general election </strong>
Jack Carson, 19, is excited about the prospect of a general election

“I’m looking forward to the general election because, over the past months, a lot of parliament has shown itself to be unrepresentative of the very people who it elected to power,” he says.

The election will bring about lots of change in parliament, he predicts, with “many people upset at the Labour Party and some expelled Conservative MPs for not acting on their commitments in the 2017 general election”.

“My hope is that the Conservatives will win a majority in the election and get Brexit delivered so the country can start to move on and get on with the party’s sensible, and populist, domestic agenda.”

Jack continues: “Boris Johnson is an energetic leader who, when I watch, gives me enthusiasm for the very same things he pushes – I too want more police, more investment in the NHS and a levelling up of education funding.”

But not everyone is as certain about which party they will be voting for and for some young voters, the policies that shaped their youths are at the forefront of their minds.

<strong>Edward Daniel has yet to decide who to vote for in the upcoming election</strong>
Edward Daniel has yet to decide who to vote for in the upcoming election

“I haven’t made up my mind entirely yet,” says Sheffield University student Edward Daniel, who is looking forward to voting for the first time. “I know personally I can’t vote for the Conservatives because of Brexit and the years of austerity I’ve witnessed – especially at school.

“But as a member of the Jewish community, I cannot bring myself to vote for Labour as I feel like there’s too much of a risk of seeing Corbyn in power,” the 19-year-old says. “I’d love a socialist government any day, just not run by him given the years of abuse he’s allowed under his leadership.”

What about the other parties? “I feel highly disillusioned – like there’s no real credible alternative at the moment,” he says, adding that he has “trust issues” with the Liberal Democrats.

“When TIG [The Independent Group], or whatever they’re called now, set themselves up at the start of the year I thought it could be promising as a centrist group who weren’t the Lib Dems.

“But clearly that hasn’t been the case. They have become beyond incompetent themselves now.”

But are any of the parties reaching out enough to young voters in the first place?

“Personally, I feel really hopeless about the whole situation,” says Aimee Giles when asked about the general election.

“As a young person it feels like nothing we do makes a difference and that nobody is listening to us. It’s irritating that it’s our futures that are the ones being impact and nobody seems to care what we have to say.

“Furthermore, with everyone focused on Brexit, nobody is even looking at the massive challenge of climate change that we as a world are facing – and it’s us young people who are going to be the ones most affected,” she adds.

“It feels as though our futures are being robbed and we can only sit by helplessly and watch it happen.”