Mon 16 September 2019

Arnold de Geouil reveals that young people voted in greater numbers in the European Elections than usual – but will this be a long-term trend?

It’s not yet a tidal wave, but it’s an awakening.

Last month’s European Elections saw a boost in turnout in many European countries, and the main reason for this could be greater participation by young voters.

The Far Right is on the rise, the planet is threatened, and then there’s Brexit: younger generations didn’t lack reasons to vote.

Here is an explanation for an unusual vote – representing a halfway between contestation and adhesion.

A Surge in Turnout in 18-24s, But Figures Remain Poor

Traditionally, the European Elections are not very popular, especially among younger voters. But, this year’s figures show slight progress.

Figures are unambiguous. More people aged 18-24 voted in 2019 than in 2014, but this remains low in comparison with statistics for the older age groups, especially seniors. 62% of those aged 60-69 voted and 65% of those aged 70 and over. Still, the increase in younger voters marks a new positive trend compared to the previous polls.

However, there is something of a paradox with the younger generation.

Young people tend to be politicised – sometimes more so than older generations – because they believe it is their ‘duty’ to go to the ballot box.

Whilst most of them support EU membership – with young people in Ireland, Germany and the Scandinavian countries coming out top for this – only a few of them actually vote at European Elections.

65% of 18-24 European voters have a positive opinion of the EU, highlighting the peace it had secured over decades and economic prosperity. Unfortunately, less than 30% of 18-24s voted in the European Elections.

In France, the number of voters in the 18-34 bracket increased by 13 points, compared to 2014, to reach 40%. But, in some countries like Greece, Hungary and Slovakia, it has decreased by 5% to 10%.

Overall, support for EU membership remains high, but it is a purely platonic love as it has not transferred to the ballot boxes in the form of turnout among this group.

Young Voters: Politicised but Not Partisan

What was the effect of Greta Thunberg, Brexit, and Donald Trump on turnout among young people?

They don’t seem to have made voters run to polling stations, but turnout as a result of these issues seems to have been noticeable – particularly with those aged 18-24.

When they vote, young people tend to be politicised – sometimes more so than older generations – because they believe it is their ‘duty’ to go to the ballot box. But, these voters are not partisan and their voting patterns fluctuate, making it difficult for pollsters to predict their behaviour. They also tend to make their choices very late – hesitating on whether to vote, rather than which party to vote for. This does not mean that theirs is not a vote of conviction, but that it is more likely to be non-partisan and sometimes non-political.

They tend to be centre-left than centre right, but have no ‘emotional’ or tribal attachment to a party.

Disillusioned, they certainly are, as their generation will pay the price for the lack of commitment to tackling climate change. It is a generation that has always experienced crisis, unemployment and austerity all over Europe. It is difficult in those circumstances to mobilise them.

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While they express deep reservations on established centre right – and less importantly – centre left parties, they still continue to vote for major parties, thinking that this is how they can have the greatest impact.  

A New Green Generation?

In the 2019 European Elections – whether in Germany, France, the UK or in the Scandinavian countries – the Greens seem to have been younger voters’ first or second choice.

Climate change obliges this to be so.

As part of ‘Fridays for Future’ demonstrations and sittings, these young voters didn’t only want to put climate crisis on the street agenda, but also in polling stations. They are demanding immediate action.

Although virtually all major political parties have tried to ‘green’ their political platform – from the French LREM and German CDU to the British Conservatives – younger voters preferred to choose elected officials known for their activity at Strasbourg, as well as ‘100%’ environmentalists. Dreamy and pragmatic.

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