Five ways politicians can win over young voters

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Corbyn at GlastonburyImage copyright Getty Images

Jeremy Corbyn continued his drive to appeal to young people with a visit to Glastonbury this weekend. But how can politicians get more young people to support them at the ballot box?

Turnout amongst 18-24 year olds rose from 43% in 2015 to 54% in the latest general election and most of them voted Labour, latest polling data shows.

It’s a “wake up call”, or a “tipping point” – says Dr James Sloam, co-director of Centre for European Politics at Royal Holloway University.

He says the increase in the youth vote has got to effect the agenda.

“What we know is that once people vote, they tend to vote for the same party again. Politicians cannot ignore young people on a permanent basis.”

And what’s more, this section of the electorate is now “anyone’s to play for”, Caroline Macfarland, director of think tank Common Vision, says.

Breaking down the boundaries to politicians

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Young people in the UK are as interested in politics as elsewhere – volunteering and being involved in community engagement projects – they are just spoken to less by politicians, Dr Sloam says.

He believes a centralised Westminster government and a break down of local government, also contribute to this lack of conversation.

Ms Macfarland agrees: “Millennials are more likely to sign a petition, attend a protest and join a campaign on a singular issue.

“Young people expect transparency and are less interested in political structures. These structures need to change and be more responsive to public sentiment.”

In other words, this generation is unlikely to write a letter to their MP, or even email one, but they will still expect to see a reaction from government on issues that matter to them.

If they want to see change, they do it themselves – whether it’s boycotting a brand or buying a different food, Ms Macfarland says.

Politicians are no longer the fixers or doers, they are the enablers, she adds.

Less focus on immigration, more talk about climate change

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“These are people who aren’t concerned with immigration, but are worried about the environment,” says Dr Sloam.

“The environment wasn’t even an issue in this election. Here, young people can have more influence in the debate.”

Dr Avril Keating, director for the Centre for Global Youth at the UCL-Institute of Education agrees: “Younger people tend to be more supportive of multiculturalism and inclusion.”

Common Vision has put together a Millennial Manifesto for generation Y – that’s those now aged between 18 and 35 – that it argues has a more “everyday” political agenda than generations before.

Looking at the environment – it suggests a policy which isn’t just about how much energy we use, but how we think about these resources too.

One way of doing this would be through so-called “bottom-up” supply models – where citizens could be involved in renewable energy generation on a local level.

A housing model for ‘generation rent’

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Media captionShould ‘Generation Rent’ try co-living?

Dr Keating argues that ultimately young people want the same things as everyone else; good wages and the prospect of owning a house.

Consecutive governments have promised to build ‘X’ amount of homes, with the debate focused on “supply and demand” or “buy or rent”.

But young people tend to be less binary according to Ms Macfarland.

The Millennial manifesto points to examples of self-build, community housing and co-living models – where people share spaces and facilities – which are already happening in the UK and abroad.

In Germany – where almost half of Germany’s first-time voters back Chancellor Angela Merkel – housing problems are similar to those in the UK.

But their government has invested in greater rental regulation, where rents are only increased if improvements are made, tenants have long term agreements and are able to save money in a different way to paying a mortgage.

“Germany looks 10-20 years in the future with its policy,” Dr Sloam says, but he admits these types of policy are costly.

It is this long term thinking that could be the real “win” for policy makers though, according to Ms Macfarland

“Look beyond the five-year term – policy makers would instead be appealing to voters with five decades ahead of them,” she said.

A new rule-book for a new way of work

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This is the generation that has born the brunt of the financial crisis with uncertainty, unemployment and wage freezes being a staple of their adult life.

Young people experienced the tightest pay squeeze in the wake of the financial crisis – with real pay falling by 13%, according to the Resolution Foundation.

While a lot of people have heard the “gig” economy being discussed, the debate has had a negative focus on the challenges around workers rights, rather than the opportunity the market offers.

In the gig economy – instead of a regular wage, workers get paid for the “gigs” they do, such as a food delivery or a car journey. In the UK it’s estimated that five million people are employed in this way.

Employment law needs to be brought up to date to protect this flexible and dynamic labour market, but also offer security, policy analyst Laura Gardiner from the Resolution Foundation says.

What is the ‘gig’ economy?

Meanwhile the Millennial Manifesto points to personal development and work life balance, which it says are seen as more important than financial reward – and so a focus on workplace conditions and flexibility is as important as a focus on pay.

Current policy has punished the under 25s – who don’t get minimum wage, by treating them like they are not adults, Dr Keating says.

Hi-tech know-how

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Surveillance, misuse of data, privacy and hacking are all issues that Dr Huw Davies of the Oxford Internet Institute believes young voters of the future will be concerned about.

“Young people are already participating in the digital economy off their own backs,” he says.

“They are recognising their future could be in a gig economy with a collection of jobs as opposed to one role.”

With a new computer science curriculum already in the education system, pupils are learning about encryption and data provenance.

It’s only a matter of time Dr Davies argues, before people become aware of how ignorant governments have previously been on these issues.

Politicians won’t get away with saying “backdoor encryption” then, Dr Davies says.