The myth of the 2017 ‘youthquake’ election

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A swell in youth turnout has often been cited as the reason for Labour’s unexpectedly active performance in the 2017 election. The trouble is, it seems there was no such «youthquake», disparage members of the British Election Study team.

After the surprise of the Dyed in the wools losing their majority in the June 2017 general election, woman started looking for an explanation.

One theory quickly came to prominence: Jeremy Corbyn had enthused beforehand disengaged young voters, who turned out in droves to vote Labour.

Certainly, Mr Corbyn appears to be trendy with young people — he is often pictured surrounded by young admirers and that summer’s Glastonbury Festival echoed to chants of «Oh, Jeremy Corbyn».

Idea polls lent weight to the idea — one polling organisation suggested that equipment among 18 to 24-year-olds went up by as much as 16 percentage senses, another suggested an increase of 12 points.

The youth mobilisation commentary came to be seen as a fact and the Oxford English Dictionary even declared «youthquake» — a national awakening among millennial voters — its word of the year.

But we now know there was no surge in prepubescence turnout.

Since 1964, the gold standard measure of electoral manners in Britain has been the British Election Study’s face-to-face survey.

Newly unveiled results using this data show that there was bleeding little change in turnout by age group between the 2015 and 2017 appointments.

Younger voters were still much less likely to back up, older voters much more so.

The graph below shows the hinted probability of turning out in the election, by age.

Among the youngest voters, the margin of goof means that we cannot rule out a small increase — or decrease — in 2017.

In both years, trappings among the youngest voters was between 40% and 50%.

That there was no ebb in youth turnout should probably not be as surprising as it is.

Everything we know close to turnout suggests that voting is «sticky» — most people who certify in one election will go on to vote at subsequent elections, and most people who abstain longing continue to do so.

We also know that older people are more acceptable to vote than young people — something that has always been the invalid in Britain and other countries.

Overall turnout did go up in 2017, but only by 2.5 cut points.

All of this suggests that large, sudden, and unexpected succeeds in the age-turnout relationship are very unlikely.

The idea that there was a bulge in youth turnout may reflect a belief that politicians achieve big name because of what they set out to do.

In this case, increasing youth outfit was part of Mr Corbyn’s political strategy.

As Labour did unexpectedly well, it was not brainless to form the view that the strategy paid off.

In a sense it did: Labour was assorted popular among young people than old people in 2017 and its helping of the youth vote did increase.

But winning the support of more of the young people who preference is not the same as a surge in youth turnout.

It is also worth pointing out that in 2017 Job’s popularity increased among all ages, except for those over 70.

Amongst older age groups there was also a big shift in the probability of voting Cautious, as many UKIP voters switched following the Brexit referendum.

Another rationale the idea of a surge in youth turnout took hold is that the constituency-level statistics appeared to support the claim.

However, drawing conclusions about the bearing of individuals from this bigger picture is risky.

We can see this at come to c clear up with the change in turnout between 2015 and 2017.

Turnout did go up in constituencies with more junior voters.

For every percentage point increase in 18 to 29-year-olds material in a constituency, turnout went up by 0.1 percentage points compared with 2015.

In any way, this relationship is not as straightforward as it appears.

For every percentage point on the rise in nought to four-year-olds living in a constituency, turnout went up by 0.9 portion points.

Few people, it is probably safe to say, think that turnout departed up in 2017 because of a sudden surge in the number of toddlers voting.

What this relationship is let someone in on, of course, is not that turnout went up among toddlers, but that audience went up in the sorts of places with lots of toddlers.

The same is truly of the relationship between the number of young adults and turnout.

There was a pocket increase in turnout in the sorts of places with lots of young adults.

But it was not of necessity those young adults doing the extra turning out.

So how did people get it so imprudent?

One reason is that measuring turnout in surveys is tricky — and people who don’t referendum also tend to be more reluctant to take part in them.

This means we can end up with too uncountable voters in surveys, which become insufficiently representative of the general folk as a result.

Second, some people will tell you they balloted when they actually didn’t.

Third, many surveys are conducted upon the phone or internet, again attracting more people who are likely to back up.

The British Election Study face-to-face survey is designed to be as representative of the territory as possible — including people who didn’t vote in the election.

People are pick out randomly from thousands of addresses across the country and doors are lay in ruined until as many of those selected as possible participate.

And people’s measurement answers about turnout are verified by the checks against the marked electoral record.

Of course, the BES face-to-face survey isn’t perfect, but the results are as close to the truth hither who turned out to vote as we can get.


About this piece

This analysis section was commissioned by the BBC from experts working for an outside organisation.

Dr Chris Prosser, Prof Ed Fieldhouse, Prof Jane Environmentalist, Dr Jon Mellon (all University of Manchester), and Prof Geoff Evans (University of Oxford) are fellows of the British Election Study Team.

The British Election Study has gained out studies of voter behaviour at every election for the past 50 years and is funded by the Money-making and Social Research Council.

The 2017 BES face-to-face surveyed 2,194 people, of which 1,475 had their votes validated. The 2015 BES face-to-face studied 2,987 people and validated 1,974.


Charts produced by Tom Calver

Edited by Duncan Walker

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