Politics and the UK General Election: An 18-24 View

Young people in the UK are worried about their employment prospects, according to a recent MTV Knowing Youth study.

On May 7th, the UK will vote in its next prime minister: David Cameron of the Conservative Party, Ed Miliband of the Labour Party, or Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats. As the general election approaches, MTV Knowing Youth has run two research studies with a sample of over 2,000 people ages 18-24 to identify young adults’ views on politics, politicians and the election itself.

Here are key findings from this project:

Engagement in UK politics is low – but 18-24s are interested in the actual issues. They do intend to vote, and in strong numbers.

  • 18-24s are interested in the day-to-day issues in their society (68%), but are not so interested in actual ‘politics’ (33%).
  • Some are so disengaged from ‘politics’ that a high number of them didn’t know when the UK general election would be (4 in 10 didn’t know the correct week of the election) or which party had just represented their local constituency for the past 5 years (4 in 10 didn’t know).
  • However, respondents want to know more about day-to-day issues, politics and the UK general election. Education is therefore key, as 4 in 10 claim they don’t really understand UK politics.
  • Regardless, 18-24s will have their say–80% claim they are registered and plan to vote.
  • Across the board, female respondents seem far less engaged (and trusting) of politics in the UK–45% feel that it’s aimed at males more than females.
  • The National Health Service (15%), Living Costs (14%), Gap Between Rich/Poor (13%) & Immigration (11%) are the key issues.

Young people are confused by and mistrustful of politics–and furthermore find it very boring.

  • When asked to describe UK politics, the response was overwhelmingly negative. There were 2 tiers of adjectives, indicating:
    • A lack of trust and engagement in the political system (words like Boring, Liars, Corrupt).
    • A lack of knowledge & education on the subject (words like Confusing & Complicated).
  • It’s evident that there is a total trust breakdown, with only 24% saying they trust politics in the UK.
  • Therefore, it’s not surprising that only 22% feel that the current UK political system is working.
  • 18-24s feel politics needs to change–63% say politics feels old fashioned and 77% believe the system needs modernizing.
  • They see the current system as benefiting older generations (52% agree) and the rich (6 in 10 agree).
  • Current politics is seen as out of touch with issues relevant to the 18-24 generation (67% agree).

The problem with UK politics is the politicians themselves.

  • Almost 7 in 10 (68%) agree that ‘the problem with UK politics is the politicians themselves’ – and they describe politicians as unengaging (68%) and boring (60%).
  • Just 22% say they trust politicians.
  • They listed scathing adjectives to describe politicians –Liars, Untrustworthy, Selfish, Out-of-Touch.
  • Only 15% believe politicians are in touch with the 18-24 generation.
  • How politicians can improve their image with this generation: help educate young voters on the political system/process (75%), improve their communication style (59%) and show more of their personality (57%)
  • The celebrity they would like to see win the top spot (and be PM?!) – Russell Brand!

To engage the 18-24 generation with politics, improving communication is key – with social media and TV at the heart.

  • Young people in the UK want to know more about politics & the general election – but currently see the topic as confusing. Again, education is key.
  • Politicians themselves are partly to blame–77% of 18-24s believe politicians do a bad job at educating the 18-24 generation about politics and 62% think politicians are confusing.
  • 75% agreed that ‘politicians don’t know how to communicate to my age group’.
  • They see social media as the single most important platform politicians and political parties should use to communicate to 18-24s. Social media took 33% of votes – followed by TV (29%) and face-to-face (15%).
  • 18-24s want politicians to ramp up their use of social media (74% agreed)–but in a simple, natural and engaging way. Their advice was clear: don’t try too hard (or to be too cool), speak to us in a language we understand, use visual aids (not a lot of text) and open up a 2-way dialogue.
  • 51% claimed they would follow a political party on social media.
  • Social media shouldn’t be used too formally, however. Young people want to see politicians having a personality on social platforms (74% agree). 78% feel that social media is a good way to educate young adults about politics.

18-24s also feel the current method of voting at polling stations needs modernizing.

  • 56% agreed that polling stations feel old-fashioned.
  • Having time to visit polling stations is an issue–43% say they don’t have time to go to polling stations.
  • Their preferred voting method would be using a smartphone, laptop or tablet (48%), followed by polling booths (40%).
  • Echoing their relationship to politics, a large chunk of 18-24s are confused about the voting process (4 in 10, 36%).
  • If the voting process were easier, 56% of 18-24s said they would be more likely to vote