The campaigns are finally over, the polls have closed, and the votes are in: the UK has, by a thin margin, voted to leave the EU. We know how the country as a whole voted (well, about 73% of it anyway), but with dramatic differences in voting patterns and turnout between most demographics, it is clear that the leave/remain split was not evenly spread across the UK’s population as a whole. So, let’s take a look and see how young people aged 18-24 voted in the EU referendum, and see how they compared to older voters.
The first big difference between young voters and older voters was the way they voted: support for Remain was over 70% among 18-24 year old voters, and dropping steadily as voter age increased to just 39% support for Remain among over 65s. Considering such a huge difference based on age (as illustrated by the graph below), with such strong support for Remain among young voters, why did Leave ultimately come out on top? The simplest answer is a combination of the 18-24 cohort being relatively small, and turning out to vote in smaller numbers.
One of the biggest impacts was the size of each cohort: the UK is generally an older country in terms of its population, with the median age standing at 43 years old, and with nearly a third of the population over 50. Considering older voters were already more likely to be pro-Leave, it seems young voters were, in the first instance, simply outnumbered.
The other big factor was voter turnout: in general, older voters turn up to vote far more than younger voters, and the EU referendum seems to have been no exception. There are no precise stats for this, but when turnout for each of the 382 voting areas is mapped against the average age of their population, a clear trend that younger areas tended to have lower turnouts becomes apparent. If we take another recent nationwide vote, the 2015 General Election, as a potential indicator this pattern becomes even more apparent, as in 2015 the turnout percentage of over 65s was nearly twice as high as for 18-24s (78% compared to 43%). We can expect a similar pattern to have been present in the EU referendum, though perhaps not as pronounced.
From all of this a very clear picture of the EU referendum becomes clear: this was a vote that was decided, ultimately, by a large cohort of older Leave voters who, compared to 18-24 year olds, simply turned up to vote in greater numbers. The message to young people angry or frustrated by the result of the EU referendum, then, seems simple: when there’s a chance to vote, be sure you turn up.
By Alexander Longworth-Dunbar