A new study suggests the ‘youthquake’ didn’t happen, but it wasn’t a myth that we made a difference in the last election
Amid all the horrible things that happened last year one shimmering silver lining was that even though the Tories were still in power, they were bruised and wounded. And against all odds, it was our constantly derided generation that had dealt the blow.
Reports of young people, engaged and enthused, door-knocking to push for votes in marginal areas (myself included – but I don’t like to brag) were abundant. Even though youth turnout at elections is traditionally very low. ‘Youthquake’ took the gong for word of the year, symbolising the power of the young. We went from lazy, ineffectual, entitled snowflakes to a political force. Finally, politicians were falling over themselves to ask what we think, what we need, what the future of this country should look like.
It hasn’t taken long for the bubble to burst. According to a face-to-face study by the BES (British Election Study), young people had less impact than originally thought. Instead, they found the only notable rise in the numbers of voters going to the polls was those aged 30-40 and concluded the youthquake was more of a “youth tremor”. They believe that we all collectively projected a youthful image onto Corbyn – he was always seen to be posing with young people, and the chorus of “Oh Jeremy Corbyn” at Glastonbury puffed up his appeal.
The eagerness with which some publications have jumped on this claim speaks volumes. Of course, the BES’s reputation as a reliable system used since the 60s to (usually) correctly call elections adds to this. The sample size for this study, however, is tiny, only 109 people aged 18-24 were asked. It’s also buried in the report, by the organisation’s own admission, that we should take the results with a pinch of salt.
“We should be cautious about over-interpreting these results. Most of the differences are not statistically significant,” the BES wrote. “Additionally, once the sample is broken down into the age groups the sample sizes for each comparison are quite small.” It’s a pitiful number. Most people that age could conduct a larger and more accurate bit of research by asking their Facebook friends than this study that has made the national press.
Just over 100 people are meant to represent a whole demographic that was apparently key to the result. It only takes 109 people for the media’s faith in the young to unravel and question the palpable shift between hopelessness and hope.
So why would the BBC, The Times and other publications with greying newsrooms display such a lack of scrutiny towards this study in particular? It doesn’t come from blind faith in polls because they know that many polls can be inaccurate, but from their unwillingness to put their faith in us.
We saw with the rise of Corbyn how these publications talked down to his supporters, especially the young. “Jeremy Corbyn’s young fans are fools – they don’t know how lucky they are,” wrote The Telegraph. A columnist for the Daily Express spun his sad tale of how “worried” he was about Britain’s youth: “Impressionable kids turned off by politicians (...) have been conned into believing Labour has transformed itself into a new honest movement bringing a happy-clappy sincerity to the game”. Today, daytime TV show Good Morning Britain put forward the question: “Are millennials (those aged in the 18-35 range) useless?” You don’t have to look far to see the older generation’s disdain for young people.
“No one believed us back then and they’re starting to doubt us now – but don’t forget what you saw”
At the time we knew that the General Election was a day of reckoning for the belligerent older generation who have held the cards for too long and pissed away our future. They are hell-bent on steering us towards Conservatism and Brexit, which is looking more and more like a total catastrophe. Brexit was a knee-jerk reaction by older people, hankering for the past (mainly blue passports and acceptable xenophobia) without stopping to connect the dots that if things are shit now then it is more their fault that it is ours.
Last April we wrote that the election was a chance for “us to unfuck the country” when there was a consensus that the snap vote would spell defeat for the left and that young people could never make a difference. No one believed us back then and they’re starting to doubt us now – but don’t forget what you saw.
Over a million under 25s registered to vote – that’s more than in the Brexit vote. They led the way with innovative digital campaigns pushing for tactical votes via specially designed websites circulated on Facebook and a flirty Tinder bot that told your matches about Labour policies. The constituencies with the youngest populations voted Labour. Countless polls put Labour as the frontrunner among people under 40. They defied odds by gaining the largest amount of votes they have since Blair, with a manifesto that put us front and centre.
The older generation is taking time adjusting to the idea that we might finally have a seat at the table and have a say in negotiating our own future. If we buy into reports that we don’t matter, we’ll fall back into the pattern of not showing up. Whether it was youthquake, youth tremour, or a youth nudge – we hold the cards in what happens next, and we shouldn’t ever forget.