Election 2017: did turnout for young people surge?

13 June 2017

"72% turnout for 18-25 year olds. Big up yourselves #GE2017"

David Lammy MP, 8 June 2017

How many young people turned out to vote on the 8th June, and did we see a surge?

The short answer is: we don’t know… yet. Any precise numbers that are currently in circulation aren’t definitive.

We do know total turnout: 69% of the electorate voted in last week’s election—the highest since 1997, when 71% turned up.

But that’s as much as the vote itself can tell us. Since we cast private ballots, no one records how old we are. So we’re reliant on opinion polls and election studies to estimate how many young people cast their ballots.

The exit poll can’t help here either—it didn’t ask about voters’ ages.

This hasn’t stopped the claim that around 72% of 18-24 year olds voted from circulating widely on Twitter.

This figure is speculative. It seems to originate from a tweet by Huffington Post blogger Alex Cairns, who has said it’s only “an indication”, based on campaigners doing headcounts at polling stations and conversations.

It may turn out to be correct or close, but it’s not something you can rely on in the meantime.

In addition, a poll by Sky News has reportedly estimated turnout for 18-24 year-olds as 66%. We’ve asked Sky for the details behind this.

If the details of this poll aren’t published, then you can’t rely on this number either.

The other figures that have come out so far suggests turnout may be lower than these figures.

A poll of over 50,000 adults since published by YouGov put turn out for 18-19 year olds at 57% and for 20-24 year olds at 59%. That’s a proportion of the total population, not just those registered to vote.

Another poll of around 8,000 adults published by Ipsos MORI estimates that 54% of all 18-24 year olds voted. That’s 64% of those young people registered to vote (although Ipsos MORI says this is a less reliable estimate). According to Ipsos MORI, 63% of the total population (including those not registered to vote) voted in the election. This poll was conducted before the election, and was weighted to match the final result on the day.

Its figures suggest turnout among 18-24 year olds (as a proportion of the whole population) could be up by 16% while turnout among older voters aged 65 and over could be down by 3%.

John Curtice, a polling expert from NatCen and the University of Strathclyde, has said “you’re going to have to wait for boring, slow, high quality academic surveys to tell you what the difference [in turnout] is, because you need to have surveys that can get hold of people who aren’t interested in politics. You will see some [polling companies] taking their data and manipulating it, but opinion polls struggle to get non-voters.”

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So is there anything we can say about youth turnout?

The British Election Study surveys people to find out whether or not they voted, and then matches this information up with electoral rolls to see if the respondents actually voted or not. This is more accurate than simply surveying people as some people misreport whether they voted or not.

It told us that 47% of young people aged 18-24 voted in the 2015 general election compared to 85% of those aged 65-79, the age group with the highest turnout.

Analysis from the London School of Economics shows that constituencies with more young voters saw marked increases in turnout compared to the 2015 election. Similar analysis has shown that the change in turnout this election is related to areas with high numbers of graduates.

There also seems to be a link between areas with large numbers of young people and increased support for Labour.

There are 17 constituencies* (out of 650) in the UK where more than a quarter of the adult population are 18-24—top of the list are Sheffield Central, Cardiff Central and Nottingham South. The average increase in Labour’s vote in these areas was 16 percentage points, compared to Labour’s national average of plus 9.5. 15 out of these 17 constituencies saw above average increases in support for Labour compared to the 2015 general election.

That doesn’t mean areas with fewer young people didn’t vote Labour though. Places like Christchurch and Worthing—with relatively few young people—also saw large increases in the Labour vote.

Finally we know that young people aged under 25 registered in significant numbers ahead of the election, although this isn’t a perfect indication of how many will vote, and as has been pointed out, young people are the most likely to newly register to vote anyway.

*We’ve based our analysis on data from the BBC’s election results site and population estimates from the ONS for England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.


Update 15 June 2017

We updated this article to include information about the YouGov poll and with the quote from Professor John Curtice.

Update 20 June 2017

We updated this piece with the latest poll from Ipsos MORI and information from the British Election Study.

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