One particular claim which is being almost universally made about the British election is that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party supposedly owes its unexpectedly strong result to a tidal wave of support from young voters who supposedly put aside their usual apathy and voted for Labour and Corbyn in overwhelming numbers.
There has not yet been a proper breakdown of the voting in the election. However I have to say that based on the evidence we currently have this looks to me most unlikely to be true.
Turnout in the 2015 election, when Labour polled 9,347,304 votes, or 30.4% of the total vote, was 66.1%. Turnout in the election which has just happened, in which Labour polled 12,874,985 votes, or 40% of the total vote, was 68.7%.
This is 2.6% higher than in 2015. This hardly seems enough for a theory that the increase in the Labour vote was caused by a massive rush to support Labour by young voters who were not voting before.
Probably more young voters did vote in 2017 than in 2015, and no doubt most of them voted Labour. However it is worth pointing out that the 18-29 demographic – and the 18-24 demographic still more so – has always tended to vote Labour in elections. In the 2015 election the 18-29 demographic was the only group of voters in which Labour outpolled the Conservatives.
Though turnout of 68.7% in the election was higher than in any election since 1997, it was still significantly lower than in any election between 1992 and 1997, when turnout was invariably above 70%, or in the Brexit referendum last year, when turnout was 72.2%.
According to myth it was the failure of pro-Remain young voters to turn out in sufficient numbers that supposedly accounted for Leave’s success in the Brexit referendum, though this myth is almost certainly wrong.
Given that turnout in the 2017 election was lower than in the 2016 Brexit referendum, and only 2.6% higher than in the 2015 election, that suggests no very big increase in the number of young people voting in this election as compared to the election in 2015 or to the Brexit referendum last year, and though a higher proportion of young voters in this election than in the 2015 election probably voted Labour, the increase in the number of young people voting and in the proportion of these young people voting Labour was almost certainly nowhere near big enough to explain the very big increase in the Labour vote.
A pro-Labour vote amongst 18-24 voters probably explains the Labour wins in Cambridge, Sheffield Hallam and Canterbury, all towns with very large student populations, but of these Cambridge was already a Labour seat, Labour won Sheffield Hallam not from the Conservatives but from the Liberal Democrats, and only Canterbury was won by Labour from the Conservatives. Besides these are just three seats whereas Labour’s net gain in the election was 30 seats.
Overall, unless I am missing something, this whole claim of Corbyn and Labour being propelled forward by a vast army of young voters who were supposedly too apathetic to vote previously looks to me like a myth.
Actually not a myth so much as an alibi. It looks to me suspiciously like an attempt by the British political class and the media to explain away Corbyn’s success by attributing it to the supposed fecklessness of young voters, who because of their naivety and idealism supposedly don’t know better. Much of the commentary which has appeared over the last few days in Britain has been dripping with such condescension. To get a sense of this see for example this deeply unpleasant and unfunny article by Giles Coren in The Times, which smears Corbyn and young voters in equal measure with patronising comments like this
I want to appeal to the young. Not necessarily to vote for me but just to get out and vote for somebody. Because I know that somebody will be me, because the young are the only ones stupid enough to believe my uncosted promises to pay for their education, their accommodation, their books, their rent, their food, their drugs, their sex, their safe spaces, their genderqueer lavatories. They will vote for me because I am so old they think I am basically Father Christmas, whereas their parents can look me in the eye and see that I am a fraudulent old opportunist. A political pied piper. A wolf in sheep’s clothing. A geography-teaching sheep. From the Seventies
The very big increase in the Labour vote – which now stands greater than the totals Blair achieved in the elections of 2001 and 2005, and not far short of the total he achieved in his landslide win of 1997 – can only be explained because large numbers of voters, older as well as younger, were won over by Corbyn and heeded his call.
There have been some other very strange claims made about this election. There is for example a truly bizarre claim doing the rounds amongst Labour opponents of Corbyn that under some mythical Blairite leader Labour would have actually won the election because it would have done much better. I am not going to waste time refuting such nonsense.
My point is that the claim that Corbyn and Labour did as well as they did because of a tidal wave of support from young voters on simple arithmetic cannot be true. The truth as the figures show is that Corbyn appeals to voters of many different age groups. His support is generationally speaking broad based.
That is why he is highly likely to be Britain’s Prime Minister before very long, probably within a year.