Younger people are “totally disengaged” from the EU referendum debate, according to a BMG Research poll completed for the Electoral Reform Society. The poll shows there are large differences in the way different generations are receiving information about the EU referendum and it also highlights a “stark” generation gap in regards to the debate.
Just 47% of 18-24 year olds say they will definitely vote, compared to 80% of those aged 65 or older – up only slightly from the end of April when the figures were 41% and 76%.
The Society claims this chimes with a general disconnect among young people with the referendum debate, with only 16% of 18-24 year olds saying they felt ‘well informed’ or ‘very well informed’ – compared to 32% of those aged 65 or older.
The findings about how well informed young people feel about the referendum are actually a decline on the same figures for the end of April, when 22% of 18-24 year olds said they felt well or very well informed about the debate.
The BMG Research polling for the ERS also shows that young people still aren’t being reached by the campaigns: a third – 32% – of 18-24 year olds have not been contacted about the referendum at all so far, compared to just 13% of those aged 65 or older.
There are major differences between how potential voters are being contacted about the referendum, with 49% of 18-24 year olds receiving a leaflet on the issue, compared to 84% of 65+. At the same time, 32% of 18-24 year olds have been contacted about the referendum on social media, compared to just 11% of those aged 65 and over.
The polling shows that older voters are much more likely to be informed about their decision by traditional and ‘conventional’ sources than younger voters – with 38% of those aged 65+ most informed by the BBC, compared to 28% of 18-24 year olds, while just 9% of those in the latter group are most influenced by newspapers compared to 28% of younger voters. And 19% of those in the younger bracket have been most informed through social media, compared to only 5% of those over 65.
The findings come as academics and campaigners launch a new online tool for the EU referendum, Better Referendum – a ‘primer’ for groups of people to arrange meetups and have informed debates on the EU referendum.
Darren Hughes, Deputy Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said: “These findings show that a stark generation gap persists when it comes to how engaged people are in the EU referendum debate. Young people simply haven’t been mobilised by either of the campaigns. The fact that interest hasn’t picked up since the end of March suggests that this problem is entrenching itself or even getting worse. And the huge 33 percentage point chasm between young and old when it comes to whether they will ‘definitely’ vote bodes badly for our democracy when it comes to ensuring we have as representative a vote as possible. This is compounded by the fact that double the proportion of 65+ voters say they feel well informed about the referendum compared to 18-24 year olds.
“With Leave and Remain close in the polls, campaigners need to be targeting those young people who have been least engaged so far. One in five 18-34 year olds are undecided – but only 47% of them say they’ll definitely vote as things stand. A low turnout among young people isn’t inevitable however, as we saw with the Scottish referendum. But they need to be inspired to get out there.
“The campaigns need to make sure younger people are registered – around four million 18-24 year olds are unregistered, so with three weeks to go until the referendum, we need extra efforts to encourage them to sign up in colleges, universities and workplaces across the country.”
“This referendum shouldn’t be decided by one generation on behalf of another – this is a vital national conversation that needs to involve everyone, not just older voters. Let’s call time on the EU referendum generation gap to make sure this really is a truly national conversation.”