Force young people to vote at first opportunity, says think tank

A woman passes a polling station The IPPR argues that young people, who are less likely to vote, have been hit hardest by spending cuts

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Young people should be required to turn out at the first election in which they have the right to vote, the IPPR think tank has said.

The plans, to be set out in a forthcoming report, involve a small fine for young people deciding not to vote at their first election.

They would also offer first-time voters who did not back any political party a "none of the above" option.

Labour is reportedly considering whether to back the idea.

Shadow lord chancellor Sadiq Khan has also said his party might propose lowering the voting age from 18 to 16.

IPPR researchers found that the UK has one of the largest differences in voter turnout between young and old people in Europe.

In 2013 local elections, an estimated 32% of 18- to 24-year-olds voted, compared with 72% of those aged over 65, the think tank said.

It also estimated that turnout for under-35s earning less than £10,000 a year was just 34%, whereas turnout for over-55s with an income of at least £40,000 a year was 79%.

'Vicious cycle'

According to the IPPR's figures, young people have been hit hardest by public spending cuts, with 16- to 24-year-olds facing cuts to services worth 28% of their annual household income, compared with 10% of the income of those aged 55-74.

Start Quote

It could well help to reinvigorate democracy”

End Quote Sarah Birch Politics professor at Glasgow University

Guy Lodge, an associate director at the think tank, said: "Unequal turnout matters because it gives older and more affluent voters disproportionate influence at the ballot box.

"Turnout rates among the young have fallen significantly which means there is less incentive for politicians to pay attention to them.

"Young people who don't vote today are less likely than previous generations to develop the habit of voting as they get older, which is why first time compulsory voting is so important."

The result was a "vicious cycle of disaffection and under-representation" in which, he said, "As policy becomes less responsive to their interests, more and more decide that politics has little to say to them."

Report co-author Sarah Birch, a politics professor at the University of Glasgow, added: "There are many other things that young people are required to do, not the least of which is go to school.

"Adding just one more small task to this list would not represent an undue burden, and it could well help to reinvigorate democracy.

"It would make politicians target first-time voters like never before and give young voters the potential for far greater political power."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 305.

    Democracy is so precious that I think we need to make voting compulsory or incentivised in a range of ways like tax breaks, points towards uni and apprenticeships. Furthermore the age of enfranchisement needs to reduce to 16 and take place in school hours.
    BUT the big incentivisor is being able to have a direct and visible effect on parliaments agenda via live polling and IT. This is THE priority.

  • rate this

    Comment number 288.

    A young peoples voting Poll is what is needed. Let them vote at high school and at work. It will all be on=line in the next few years anyway. Can't say I remember ever talking about Politics and the right to vote at school. The answer to finding new leaders for our country is to create a Political class in the last year of school. More social debates, less math.

  • rate this

    Comment number 286.

    I'm surprised at how many people think that forcing people to vote improves democracy. Without a "none of the above" option, and with bad and very bad candidates, where's the democracy?

  • rate this

    Comment number 144.

    Horses to water, I think. Is the next step to check how they vote? Better that everyone is made clear the importance of voting and leave them to get on with it. Compulsory voting just sounds ridiculous in a democracy. There should of course always be an abstention option on any vote and then all opinions can be captured.

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    Nonsense. Either everyone should be required by law to vote or no one should be required by law to vote.


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