#ELLGetRegistered: why we need young voters

Only 70% of 18-24s are registered to vote. Pic: Alex Sims

Only 70% of 18-24s are registered to vote. Pic: Alex Sims

Why do young people let older people shape their future? Over the next week, ELL will explain why 18-24 year olds should vote on 7 May.

 194 seats could be lost by only a five per cent shift in votes according to a BBC report.

18-24 year olds make up approximately 14 per cent of the electorate so in these uncertain times, the youth vote could make all the difference as to how the polls swing.

But election turnout in the UK has been in long-term decline and it is consistently 18-24 year olds that record a much lower turnout than older people.

Estimated percentage turnout by age at general elections: 1979-2010

Worrying research by the Hansard society estimates that only 12 per cent of under-25s intend to vote in May. To put this into perspective, the graph displays what this statistic would mean for each ELL borough.

18-24 year olds as a proportion of ELL's total electorate 

In 2010 less than half of all 18-24 year olds voted in the General election.

The problem begins at voter registration.

Registration “completeness”, defined by the Electoral Commission as being when “every person who is entitled to have an entry in an electoral register is registered,” increases with age. Last year while 20-24 year olds recorded 70 per cent completeness, those over 65 recorded the highest levels at 95 per cent.

Sixteen and 17 year olds who are not yet old enough to vote but will turn 18 before the election, can register but only 51 per cent do so. They not only have the lowest registration rate, their presence on the electoral register is also in sharp decline.

From February/March to December 2014 this number dropped by 33 per cent meaning 132,000 fewer 16 and 17 year olds are now on the voting register. In some cases this reduction can be explained by individuals reaching voting age, however it also reveals a more alarming statistic – they are not registering at the same rate as previous years.

Looking deeper into these trends ELL found that low registration rates stem from three main factors:

1) Mobility

Despite recent changes to the registration system, the electoral register has typically been a property-based database, meaning areas with more mobile populations who do not live at the same address for extended periods of time experience lower numbers of voter registration.

Typically young people are more likely to be private renters or students with no long-term fixed address making them harder to canvas. The graphs below show each of the ELL borough’s 18-24 year old population against voter turnout and the number of privately rented properties in the borough.

Tower Hamlets contains the highest percentage of privately rented accommodation, the lowest voter turnout and highest proportion of 18-24 year olds.

Meanwhile, Croydon contains the lowest percentage of privately rented accommodation, a marginally lower proportion of 18-24 year olds and has the highest voter turnout of the four boroughs.

2) Household size and relationships

As rents rise at alarming rates across London, large proportions of young people have entered into house shares to split the often extortionate cost of living.

In the past this multiple co-habitation had a negative effect upon youth registration.

Research suggests that registration completeness varies by the number of adults living within a household. Households where only two people live have a completeness 13 per cent higher than those with six or more people.

Additionally, the closer your relationship with the person in charge of completing the registration form, the more likely you were to be on the register, creating another obstacle for young voters who tend to live with friends and housemates.

The graph below shows the number of households with multiple occupants in the ELL boroughs against voter turnout. In 2001, with the anomalous exception of Lewisham, a correlation can be seen between large housing size and decreased voter turnout.

However, this year the registration system has changed. Individuals are now responsible for their own registration. This is a critical difference for this year’s election. The head of the household is no longer responsible for filling in the form, which can now also be done on line. Tomorrow, we will explore what this will mean for the youth vote.

3) Voter apathy

Apathetic attitudes are not shaped and defined within a vacuum but informed by the political landscape. Since 2010, issues including tensions within the coalition government, sharp cuts in public spending, economic uncertainty after the 2008 recession and doubts over the UK’s position in Europe have left the general public feeling politically disengaged.

Sharp rises in student fees, cuts to youth services and uncertainties over housing and jobs have left young people feeling particularly isolated from the political climate.

The graph below demonstrates the sharp difference in attitudes to voting between young and older demographics. In data from the Hansard Society only 46 per cent of 18-24 year olds feel it is their duty to vote compared to 79 per cent of these ages 65-74.

There is also a huge difference in political interest between demographics; 33 per cent more 55-64 year olds report a high or fair interest in politics compared to 18-24 year olds.


Just 23 per cent of 18-24s claim to be a “fairly strong” supporter of a party and only 34 per cent of this demographic claim to know a fair amount UK politics.

Over the following week ELL will explain how students are one of the most powerful demographics on the electoral register, having the opportunity to register both at their home and term-time addresses. We will also we take a look at the initiatives taking place nationally and locally to get young voters out to the polls and stop young people being synonymous with non-voters once and for all.

If you are undecided about who to vote for take our quiz or watch the series of ELL candidate videos explaining what policies each party has in place for young people. If you are not registered to vote yet read our guide to the new registration system.

For information on how the data behind this article was collected see our methodology

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