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

  • 26 August 2013
  • From the section UK
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A woman passes a polling station
Image caption The IPPR argues that young people, who are less likely to vote, have been hit hardest by spending cuts

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.

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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