In recent blogs, we have explored the impact of Brexit, and the stances taken by the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties towards the triggering of Article 50, on the political support of young voters. Those blogs showed that while there have been some small changes, for the most part Brexit has had little impact: younger voters still overwhelmingly support Labour, with the Tories in second place and the Lib Dems trailing well behind. Given the support of both Labour and the Tories for Brexit, alongside young people’s own hostility towards it, this is perhaps surprising.
Something that might help to explain this is the fact that the significance of Brexit as a political issue is falling amongst the young. YouGov’s surveys show that shortly after the EU Referendum in July, when asked to identify the most important issues facing the country, 56% of the under-25s identified Brexit, versus two-thirds of the wider electorate; by the end of March, just before Article 50 was triggered, this had fallen to 48%, compared with 67% of their elders. While Brexit still tops the list of political issues most young people feel the political elite should be dealing with, then, the majority do not think it is one of the major issues facing the country. Other issues identified as priorities include health (38%), the environment (22%), housing (20%), and the economy (18%). With the exception of the environment, the under-25s are no more likely to think these are the major issues facing the country than their elders, suggesting that there is not a dramatic shift in the political agendas of young people compared with the wider electorate, but the fact remains that young people are the least likely to think that Brexit is the most important issue facing Britain, and are becoming increasingly unlikely to view it as a priority.
This may help explain why the stance of the Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour parties is not having as dramatic an impact on the political support of young people as we might expect; many of them are focussing on the stances taken by the parties in relation to other issues. Another potential consequence of this trend, in the current Brexit-saturated environment, is that a substantial proportion of young people may become increasingly frustrated at the failure of the media and politicians to address the other policy issues they care about, something which may have a greater impact on their political support, or their assessment about the representativeness of the political process, in the future.
This post was written by Dr Stuart Fox as part of the Young People and Brexit project. Stuart is a quantitative research associate based at WISERD, Cardiff University. Stuart can be contacted by email at FoxS8@cardiff.ac.uk or via Twitter on @stuarte5933.