3rd Mar 2024

Brexit Briefing

Young voters could keep UK in EU

For all the time, money and attention devoted to TV debates, publicity stunts and advertising, the so-called “air war” in the UK referendum is useless if it doesn’t persuade people to vote.

Both the Remain and Leave camps know that close elections are decided by which campaign is better at getting their supporters out on the day.

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  • The late surge in registration is a triumph for campaign groups who have focused on getting young people registered. (Photo: Reuters)

The EU referendum is the ultimate turnout election - no individual constituencies, no safe seats, and every vote counts.

This has always been seen as a trump card for the Leave campaign. Eurosceptics are already highly motivated; they have been waiting years for this referendum.

Not only that, but the demographics also appear to be in their favour.

Most surveys indicate that over 65s are the most likely - around 60 percent of them, in fact - to want to leave the EU.

They are also people most likely to vote - 78 percent of them voted in the 2015 election.

But if most pensioners can be relied upon to exercise their democratic rights, it’s much tougher to persuade their grandchildren to visit their local polling station.

Getting young people to the polls is the Holy Grail for Remain campaigners. Voters between 18 and 30, for example, are the most pro-European age segment, with over 60 percent of them supporting a Remain vote.

The two-day extension for voter registration granted on Wednesday (8 June) after the government website crashed was a welcome boost for the Remain side.

It had endured a week of unwelcome immigration figures and worrying opinion polls.

One million new voters

The website crashed when over 50,000 people tried to use the service at 22.15PM on Tuesday (6 June), just over an hour after British PM David Cameron appeared before a live audience in a referendum debate on the ITV broadcaster.

According to government data wbsite, 525,000 people registered to vote on Tuesday.

The following day, the government rushed through emergency provisions taking registration through to midnight on Thursday (9 June).

In total, over 1 million people are likely to have submitted applications to vote over the past three days.

But their identity is more important than their sheer number.

Almost two out of every three of the late applicants were under 35. That’s a lot more than the norm in the UK, where young people make up just 28 percent of the population.

In total, 170,000 of the applicants were aged 25 to 34, 132,000 were under the age of 25 and 100,000 were aged 35 to 44.

Gerrymandering the vote?

Around 95 percent of the registrations have been done online.

The late surge in registration is a triumph for universities and for campaign groups that targeted young voters.

It is little wonder that the extension of the deadline came under attack by the Leave side.

The chief executive of the Vote Leave campaign, Matthew Elliott, said the government was “trying to register as many likely Remain voters as possible”.

Arron Banks, the group’s multi-millionaire sponsor, issued vague legal threats against the extension. That could become a big issue if the referendum is decided by a few thousand votes.

People did have plenty of time to register and rules are rules. But the Leave side risks looking mean-spirited if they try to block young people from taking part.

And after all, gerrymandering usually involves preventing people from voting, not the opposite.

80-percent turnout

Both camps will tell you that a higher turnout will benefit the Remain campaign.

For its part, the Electoral Commission has warned local authorities, who will administer polling day and the vote counting, to prepare for a turnout of "around 80 percent”.

That would be close to the 85 percent in the referendum on Scottish independence in 2014 and way above the 66 percent who voted in 2015 UK general election.

Pollsters were proved wildly wrong back in 2015, however. So the figures are not guaranteed.

But even so, if the Electoral Commission is right, a turnout of 80 percent turnout would probably result in Britain voting to stay in the EU.

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