With less than six months to go, next year's general election seems to be getting nearer and nearer. Newspaper and TV headlines are dominated by the rise of Ukip, Tory defectors and the questionable leadership of Ed Miliband. The Conservatives are being pulled to the right in order to appease the Eurosceptics of their party and avoid damage from Ukip. On the other side Labour seem to be all over the place with Miliband's approval ratings the lowest they've ever been. However, with all this going on, no party seems to be targeting the younger generation of voters.
It's a fact that older people are more likely to vote than younger people; however students and the young electorate shouldn't be dismissed by mainstream parties. In 2010, the Liberal Democrats saw a jump in success as they gained at 23% of the vote, the highest they've ever achieved under the name 'Liberal Democrats'. Part of the reason for this success was the promise by Nick Clegg that university tuition fees would not be raised. Clegg, quite wisely, targeted young people with policies such as this and, initially, it paid off with his part getting into government. Of course we now know that this main promise was effectively abandoned and many former Lib Dem voters feel, quite rightly, lied to and let down. The party now polls below UKIP.
The issues which appear most concerning for the majority of the electorate (immigration, EU membership and 'cutting the deficit') aren't the same as issues that concern young voters. In fact, I've found from personal experience, that students and young voters tend to be fairly economically conservative, in favour of a free and growing economy, but also more socially liberal - for example 70% of 18-24 year olds support same sex marriage compared to just 37% of over 65s (1). This is a huge generalisation, but with it in mind some may think that the Tories would be the party of choice for young voters. After all, they're economically conservative by name and it was David Cameron who pushed for same sex marriage to become law. Despite this, a recent YouGov poll found that just 30% of 18-24 year olds intend to vote Conservative whilst 34% will go for Labour (2). This means that Labour are ahead in the youngest demographic, despite the overall result putting both parties at 33% each.
What isn't clear from these statistics is why the main parties aren't targeting policies at young voters. Looking at the Labour party website, the main points raised are about 'energy bills' and 'the cost of childcare'- hardly matters which greatly concern the youth of this country. Although 'jobs for young people' is mentioned, the policy isn't given as much attention as it should be. The Conservative party website is, perhaps, even worse in this sense, with focus put on 'capping welfare', 'reducing the deficit' and 'reducing immigration'. Although 'Skills for young people' is a policy heading there is, again, less emphasis put on this compared to their other policies. Looking further right, Ukip are hardly worth mentioning as it's no secret that they're most popular with older generations and, besides, 18-24 year olds were polled this year by YouGov as being most in favour of staying in the EU compared to any other age demographic (3). Ukip, therefore, have a fairly good reason for not targeting young voters.
There is one party that is increasingly popular among young people, though: the Green party. The Green party's current biggest voting demographic is 18-24 year olds, 12% of whom would vote Green next year compared to just 5% of over 65s. Their traditional green, environment-loving, eco-friendly policies go down well with younger generations. As well as this, they say they would introduce a living wage as a minimum wage (popular with young people going into work) and scrap university tuition fees (also popular, for obvious reasons). This, however, goes against what I mentioned earlier about the young being more economically conservative; the Green Party is left wing in every sense.
Do the mainstream parties not consider the younger generations as important as the older ones when it comes to getting votes? Perhaps they don't and perhaps they don't need to? One thing is certain, though and that is that it is a shame the Conservatives and Labour aren't doing enough to connect with young voters. It leaves a generation of people feeling disconnected from the political system of this country- and surely that cannot be good.