Millennials “short-changed” by Brexit campaign says CoVi

18 Jul 16

Younger people were “short-changed” by the European Union referendum campaign, which was overwhelmingly narrow and negative, a think-tank said today.

CoVi – which partnered with CIPFA on a range of Brexit debates ahead of the 23 June vote – said turnout among so-called ‘Millennials’ had been much higher than expected, albeit not as high as that found in older age groups.

Although it is not possible to get precise turnout figures by age group, CoVi noted that overall turnout was 72%, higher than at any national election since 1992.

“If the ratio of youth turnout to overall turnout was the same in the June 2016 referendum as the 2015 general election (based on Ipsos MORI’s analysis), that would mean that 47% of 18-24s and 59% of 25-34 year olds voted in the EU referendum,” the think-tank's report said. This is just under youth turnout rates seen in the 1997 general election in which Tony Blair’s Labour Party scored a landslide victory.

The think-tank highlighted that 73% of voters aged under 25 voted to remain in the EU, while 59% of those aged 25-34 also opted to remain.

CoVi’s analysis of more than 4,000 online headlines revealed that issues that matter to young people – primarily housing, jobs and public services – barely featured in the campaign. By contrast, issues of more importance to older people, such as immigration, were more prevalent, CoVi said. Key voices in the campaign were also overwhelmingly white and male. Of over 300 people who were mentioned in the online news headlines analysed, the average age was 58, 79% were men and 93% were white.

Commenting on the findings, CoVi director Caroline Macfarland, said: “Our research shows that the EU referendum was not designed for the millennials. The timeframe and scope of the official campaign appears to have short-changed all of us in terms of the level of information and tone of the debate.

“We are calling on the new prime minister to immediately address the distress and disaffection among young people in this country by instigating a detailed public consultation process on the terms and priorities of the UK’s negotiations with the EU and other countries, similar to the consultation on same-sex marriage in 2012. The priorities and values of younger people must be taken into account.”

Katy Owen, programme manager at CoVi and along with Macfarland a co-author of the report, added that the referendum showed young people were not apathetic but were stuck in a political system that wasn’t responsive to their needs.

She urged the government to consider new ways of engagement such as online voting, longer polling periods and extending the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds.

Meanwhile, the Resolution Foundation today warned that millennial were facing a “generational pay penalty” and are at risk of becoming the first generation to earn less than their predecessors over the course of their working lives.

According to the foundation, a millennial (aged between 15 and 35) earned £8,000 less than someone in the generation above them – so-called Generation X.

Resolution Foundation director Torsten Bell said: “Generational inequality risks becoming a new inequality for our times, and nowhere is that clearer than on pay. We’ve taken it for granted that each generation will do much better than the last – earning more and enjoying a higher standard of living. But that approach risks looking complacent given the realities of recent years and prospects for the future.”

He warned that even optimistic scenarios were likely to see much lower pay progress for younger age groups. “There is even a risk that they earn less over their lifetimes than older generations, putting generational pay progress into reverse.”

David Willetts, executive chair of the Resolution Foundation and chair of the Intergenerational Commission, said fairness between generations needed to be higher up the public policy agenda.

“This is about taking seriously the social contract between the generations that underpins our society and state, and recognising that everyone is worried about the future of younger generations,” Willetts said.

“In the real world there is no such thing as generational war – instead there are parents, grandparents, families and communities all sharing the same hopes for younger generations.”

  • Vivienne Russell

    Vivienne Russell is managing editor of Public Finance magazine and

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