Young voters and the EU referendum

22 July 2016

“Turnout among young voters 'almost double' initial reports”

Independent, 10 July 2016

Reports on the numbers of young people who turned out to vote in the EU referendum have been conflicting. But there is no definitive answer on how many young people voted in the EU referendum, or even which way they voted.

That said, whatever the exact figures, young people do seem to have been less likely to vote than older people.

How many young people voted?

Immediately after the referendum Sky News suggested that turnout for 18-24 year olds was around 36%. We looked into this and found that the figure was based on likely turnout for the 2015 election.

Since then a number of polls have been conducted which suggest that turnout for young people may have been much higher, with at least two thirds turning out.

However, these polls aren’t consistent in what they determine “young people” to be. Some categorise this as 18-24 year olds, some as 18-34 year olds.

Concerns have also been raised by John Curtice, President of the British Polling Council, about whether or not the polls are weighted accurately to take account of the fact that people who respond to polls tend to be more likely to vote in the first place. People who don’t vote are less likely to answer a poll about politics and voting.

As Professor Curtice points out, these polls report a higher overall turnout than was actually the case.

But they do all show that young people were less likely to have voted than their older peers.

How did young people vote?

Following the referendum result a number of polls have also tried to find out how the young people of the UK voted.

YouGov have suggested that 71% of 18-24 year olds who voted wanted to stay in the EU and 29% wanted to leave.

In a poll conducted by Lord Ashcroft in the days before the referendum and on the day itself, 73% of 18-24 year olds said they voted to remain in the EU.

And two academics have found that “of the 20 ‘youngest’ [local] authorities 16 voted to Remain. By contrast the Leave vote was much stronger in older areas. Of the 20 oldest local authorities 19 voted to Leave”.

Will we ever know?

Professor Curtice thinks that it may be some time before we can say with any more certainty how many young people voted in the referendum and how many of them wanted to stay in or leave the EU. More long-term academic studies will need to take place, such as the British Social Attitudes survey, before a clearer picture emerges.

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