Comment writer Hannah Ford provides insight into the causes, implications and solutions of low voter turnout among Generation Z.

Written by Hannah Ford
Images by Parker Johnson

With the next general election predicted to take place in the second half of this year, the low level of youth voter turnout in the UK is a highly pertinent issue, and one that many wish to solve. In the 2019 General election there was a turnout of only 47% by voters aged 18-24, comparatively lower than other European democracies like Germany, where turnout of similarly aged voters was 68%. The implications of this can be large, with the 2017 general election only needing a 2% shift, or 700,000 votes, to alter the outcome, proving higher youth turnout could be capable of great change. So why is turnout so low for this demographic, how can it be solved, and what are the issues that I believe will incentivise young people to vote? 

There are many reasons why young people might choose not to vote. Some people might pin it down to purely a lack of interest, but I am not sure this is entirely accurate. Gen-Z, the generation making up the thousands of first-time voters this general election, has continually proven to take interest in current affairs, be it through the youth climate movement spearheaded by Greta Thunberg, or participation in organisations such as Black Lives Matter and Just Stop Oil. Instead, I suggest that three areas, combined, result in low turnout: voter disillusionment, poor citizenship education in schools, and a poorly functioning electoral system.  

One clear way to target youth disillusionment and apathy is for parties to place greater emphasis on issues that are of interest to the young. Climate change and the environment, for example, has been continually proven to be a key issue for young people. In a recent study it was found that whilst there are few generational differences in climate related beliefs, Gen-Z had higher risk perceptions and emotions when it comes to climate change. This highlights the so-called eco-anxiety of the young, and indicates how this issue could encourage higher turnout, should it become a prevalent issue in parties’ campaigns and manifestos. 

Climate change and the environment… continually proven as a key issue for young people

Another topic that I believe would be influential amongst the young is the costs and accessibility of higher education. Just recently we’ve seen changes to the loan system, with students starting their degree from 2023 onwards facing a lower income threshold of £25,000, and longer repayment periods. This, coupled with the high cost of living, which left prices rising faster than student loans in 2022-2023, has likely made many young people even more financially concerned than previously. As a result, I think parties who aim to make higher education more affordable will gain a large portion of youth votes and likely spur many young people to the voting booth. 

But aside from key issues such as these, I believe changes to citizenship education in schools would be one key way to increase youth turnout. According to surveys 49% of young people think that education on politics and democracy is not extensive or available enough in schools. I think a more thorough and coordinated syllabus for citizenship studies would change this, ensuring it is not neglected by schools. A 2018 study by LSE suggested that introducing measures in secondary schools such as ‘civic and political workshops’ and ‘field trips to the polls’, could be effective ways to develop ‘political literacy’ and ‘self-efficacy’, possibly resulting in more young people voting.   

The UK’s system of voting is one that I believe heightens apathy and contributes to low voter turnout

My final suggestion is one I believe would benefit voter turnout not just for young people, but across generations, and it involves the UK’s FPTP voting system. The UK’s system of voting is one that I believe heightens apathy and contributes to low voter turnout. The number of safe seats provided through this system clearly limits the opportunity for change. It means that some votes are more valuable than others, and actually results in a large proportion of people not being represented by their MP of choice. This could arguably consolidate already present feelings of apathy amongst voters, leading people to conclude that their vote makes little difference and is, in fact, futile. A more proportional system, like that of Germany or the Netherlands, may be an effective way of lessening apathy and increasing turnout. 

Overall, it is a combination of issues that results in such low youth voter turnout in the UK, and there is no singular solution to this. Key topics, such as climate change and higher education, would undoubtedly incentivise the young by illustrating that the outcomes of elections directly impact issues they care about. As well as this, I think changes to both citizenship education in schools and the FPTP system would encourage more young people to vote, as they would feel better informed and more represented. 

For more Comment articles on politics:

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