The great election turn-off: the true scale of millennials and Gen Z who won’t vote

Huge numbers of younger people feel disenfranchised by the political parties and are not going to vote, exclusive polling for The Independent shows.

According to research carried out by Techne UK, around four in 10 people – 41 per cent – aged 18 to 34 have either not registered to vote (24 per cent) or are registered but have decided not to go to the ballot box (17 per cent) next month.

Leading pollster Lord Hayward described the figure as “very high” for this stage of an election.

He told The Independent: “That is what we would expect for a normal turnout in terms of people not voting. But you have to remember that among the 59 per cent who say they will vote a sizeable number of them will also not vote.”

Leading pollster Lord Hayward described the figure as ‘very high’ for this stage of an election (PA Wire)
Leading pollster Lord Hayward described the figure as ‘very high’ for this stage of an election (PA Wire)

The shocking new figures – the highest for any age group measured – reveal a democratic deficit with Generation Z and millennials in British politics that has left the parties not addressing the issues concerning younger voters.

In particular the desire to reverse Brexit – while supported by all age groups by 43 per cent to 40 per cent (52 per cent to 48 per cent excluding don’t knows) – is most strongly backed by 18- to 34-year-olds.

Among this group, support for rejoin is 46 per cent to 30 per cent (61 per cent to 39 per cent excluding don’t knows) but Brexit has been a taboo subject in the election.

Earlier this week, figures from the Electoral Commission showed registration rates among under-25s were half that of the 2019 election period, while wider apathy threatens the overall turnout.

Lord Hayward said: “The problem is that 18- to 34-year-olds do not identify with any of the political parties or are particularly taken by the agenda. Another poll the other day by Savanta showed how young voters are abandoning the Labour Party.”

Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak are turning off younger voters (Getty/Reuters)
Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak are turning off younger voters (Getty/Reuters)

Dan Lawes, head of partnerships at voter registration group My Life My Say, which ran the “give an X campaign” to boost voter registration, said the findings were “stark, yet not surprising”.

He told The Independent: “Trust in political parties and leaders amongst younger generations is incredibly low, heightened by years of scandals and crises.”

He said there was a surge in voter registration among 18- to 34-year-olds on last week’s deadline, with 355,548 submitting applications.

“Our message to young people is clear – you’re the expert in your own lived experiences, don’t let others make important decisions about your future,” he added.

Early in the campaign, former deputy prime minister Lord Heseltine warned that this would be “one of the most dishonest” election campaigns in history because of the refusal to debate Brexit by the main parties.

But other issues affecting younger voters have also been forced to take a back seat compared to those which play more strongly with older voters, such as immigration and pensions.

Hopes by party leaders that the set piece events could make an impact on younger voters are also knocked down by the findings, which show that among Generation Z and millennials only 30 per cent could be swayed by the TV debates. This compares to an average across all age groups of 40 per cent and 51 per cent among pensioners.

There has been little discussion or prioritisation of housing even though the ability to buy your own home is out of reach for the vast majority of younger voters.

Added to the renters’ reform bill which was shelved because of the early election, so-called “generation rent” has been left without protections against no-fault evictions and rent rises.

Neither of the main parties is willing to look at the cost of tuition fees on students and long-term debt implications, with Labour even U-turning on a promise to scrap them.

The figures come after both Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and prime minister Rishi Sunak were directly challenged in the BBC Question Time sessions on Thursday by younger voters, who did not feel their issues were being prioritised.

Sir Keir was quizzed by a student on his many U-turns, including on the promise to get rid of tuition fees.

He admitted the fees are “very expensive for students, don’t work well, students come out with a huge debt around their neck”.

And he acknowledged that five years ago he said he would get rid of them but insisted: “I had a choice to make.”

He said it was a choice between bringing waiting lists in the NHS down or scrapping tuition fees.

Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak were both grilled by young voters (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak were both grilled by young voters (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Meanwhile, Mr Sunak appeared out of touch when he was asked by a student for one policy which would help someone who is too old for national service and does not plan to buy a house in the next five years.

The prime minister replied: “When you get a job, I will cut your tax.”

Mr Sunak’s national service plan for school leavers to join the military or do community service has not gone down well with younger voters and in the Question Time session he suggested sanctions would be applied to those who did not do it, including not being able to access bank accounts or driving licences.

A tetchy prime minister was also seen lecturing a younger member of the audience over her question on the European Convention of Human Rights before she accused him of “putting words in my mouth”.

The parties claim they do have an offer for younger voters with the Tories pointing to their help-to-buy scheme.

But the Conservatives’ biggest offer is to pensioners to increase the pension triple lock to a pension triple lock plus, with extra protections against tax.

Labour plans to give 16-year-olds the vote and has policies to bring in rent reform, but none of Labour’s six first steps or Mr Sunak’s five priorities directly tackle issues for young voters.