Mind the #EUref Generation Gap

Josiah Mortimer, former Head of Communications

Posted on the 4th April 2016

It’s no news that young people are seen as disengaged from formal politics. But research we released at the weekend shows just how deep that runs when it comes to the EU referendum.

We’ve revealed a worrying generation gap in the public’s interest in the EU referendum, as new polling by BMG Research done for us shows that just 21% of 18-24 year olds say they are ‘very interested’ in the EU referendum, compared to 47% of those 65 or older.

That more than double the number of older voters say they are very interested in the EU referendum compared to 18-24 year olds highlights a deeply concerning generation gap in this debate. It seems like young people haven’t been engaged in a debate which has so far focused on individual spats rather than the real issues which affect them.

That’s not all – not only are they less interested, they are much less likely to vote. Only 44% of 18-24 year olds say they are certain to vote on June 23rd, compared to 76% of those 65 or older. That’s an enormous 32 percentage point difference.

Overall, 58% of people say they will ‘definitely vote’ in the EU referendum, according to BMG Research, while another 15% say they will ‘probably’ vote. This could be a referendum decided by those who will be least affected by this once-in-a-lifetime decision.

It’s not all bad news though. When asked if they would be more likely to vote if they had more information, 29% of 18-24 year olds said they’d be ‘much more likely’ to vote, and 27% ‘a little more likely’ – 56% overall. That compares with only 39% of the general public saying they’d be more likely to vote if they had more information.

The polling also showed a major socioeconomic divide, with 36% of professional ABC1 respondents saying they are ‘very interested’ in the referendum compared to just 27% of more working-class C2DE respondents. Overall, 76% of ABC1 respondents said they are interested compared to just 59% of the C2DE demographic.

Clearly, if the campaigns and media reached out beyond Westminster and gave the facts on the issues rather than just the personalities, it could make a huge difference.

We know that this is likely to be a once-in-a-lifetime vote for most people – the last referendum was in 1975. So it’s all the more important young people who will be most affected by this decision in years to come turn out. This will take effort – just 43% of 18-24 year olds voted in last year’s General Election – but it is vital.

We need to do everything we can to make sure everyone is involved in this huge democratic decision, which will affect all of us. The campaigns and the media clearly need to reach out far wider in targeting a wider range of the public – from young people to economically marginalised groups.

The British public deserve a real debate, and this polling shows the stark need to do everything we can to make sure this referendum isn’t decided by a select few but by the whole country.

Let’s open up this referendum out of the Westminster bubble and into communities around the UK, so that the public truly have faith in the result.


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