Benjamin Bowman


We have just seen a record breaking surge in voter registration. Applications to register to vote are up 38% on 2017, and 2/3rds of those applications were from people aged under 35. Now the registration deadline has passed, people around the country are knocking on doors, handing out flyers, calling their friends and trying to make difference in the last days of the campaign.


What can turn a record breaking number of voter registrations into a surge in turnout? Here are three techniques to watch for in the final days of the campaign.


Can record-breaking voter registration become a ‘Youthquake’?


According to Darren Hughes, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, ‘we’ve never seen a surge like it’. Official figures indicate two thirds of people applying for a vote in 2019 were aged under 35. Record high voter registration bodes well for turnout in 2019, but only if voters get out there on 12th December.


Forget the winter weather, though. Turnout, especially for younger voters, will be about three things: talking to people, making a plan and getting specific on issues.


Talk to young people and build a community of voters


Talking to people works. For political campaigns this means canvassing, especially face-to-face canvassing. Thousands of people will be going door-to-door for a Party they support, meeting people and reminding them to vote. Canvassing brings out the vote


Young people who want to help other young people to turn out to vote can learn from the recent climate strikes in two ways. First, getting other young people involved means talking to them. Call someone up. Send them a message. Post on social media: ‘I’m a voter’.


Second, and importantly, this works best if you’re building a network. Gather with friends and say we’re voters. Telling young people they’re part of a community of voters isn’t just about building social pressure (although social pressure works). It’s also about building that supportive community.

If you’re a young voter who sees a message saying ‘Sandra, Paul and Fatima have all voted, have you?’ that puts a little social pressure on you, but it also means your vote counts for something more. For many young people, putting their vote in a box feels small, but knowing you’re not alone can give young voters a powerful sense of something bigger.


Make a plan to vote


Young people can help others make a plan.

First step is finding out where to vote. Where Do I Vote? is as simple a website as it sounds: put your postcode in and it’ll tell you where to go.

Second is checking the facts. You need to be registered, but that’s all. You don’t need a polling card to vote, and you don’t need ID.

 The third step is making a plan. What time will you go? How will you get there? For young people especially, who can feel like politics leaves them out in the cold, making a plan might also mean reaching out to nearby to go vote together, or to meet up afterwards.

Raising turnout can also mean checking up on them. Asking friends ‘Did you vote yet?’ is a totally normal and OK question on polling day.

Don’t forget that political parties and local activists may well be around to help voters if they’re having trouble. It’s quite common for activists to give people a lift to the polling station, for instance.


Be specific on issues


A poll run by Opinium, earlier this year, found more than half of participants (54%) said their concerns about climate change would affect how they vote, and the proportion rose to 74% for under-25s. In nationwide polls, like YouGov’s respected issues polling, although Brexit remains the biggest issue for voters nationwide, younger voters are more likely to identify healthcare and the environment as the biggest issues for them.


For many of us who work with young people, national polling like YouGov’s approach looks geared to older voters, rather than younger ones. For instance, while Government figures indicate as many as two in three young people are going without mental healthcare they need, the crisis in mental health is presumably bundled up in the box marked healthcare. Similarly, although this year climate change was voted the issue of the year in UK Youth Parliament’s Make Your Mark campaign, climate change is presumably considered part of ‘the environment’ in the list of issues pollsters were interested in.


Both healthcare and the environment demonstrate something about young voters: they tend to be keyed into specific issues and attracted by targeted policies, and broad brush approaches tend to miss out what motivates them.


Age is the tipping point, and not just in voting intention.


After the last election in 2017, YouGov concluded that ‘age seems to be the new dividing line in British politics’, and in electoral terms the tipping point age was 47. Younger, and you were more likely to have voted Labour; older, and you were more likely to have voted Conservative. Although turnout is hard for pollsters to measure, most reckon young people’s turnout rose in 2017, to about 54-56%, while turnout among people aged 55 and older was about 71%.


In other words, it was a tipping point not just on how people voted, but whether they would vote at all. With just days remaining before the election, younger voters will be talking to each other, supporting each other and planning for the 12th December. What will happen? We’ll just have to wait and see.


Benjamin Bowman is a Lecturer at the Manchester Centre for Youth Studies at Manchester Metropolitan University and a member of the Political Studies Association. He tweets at @bennosaurus. Image credit: CC by UK Parliament/Flickr.