28 May 2014

Are young people sleepwalking towards Ukip-land?

Ukip gains at the polls and an eventual exit from the European Union – the prediction of one academic if voter apathy persists among young people in this country.

Nigel Farage and Ukip celebrate success at the European elections (Getty)

The “political earthquake” at the European elections on Sunday night saw Ukip win 24 MEP seats and gain a 27.49 per cent share of the vote, up more than 10 points on 2009.

Labour finished with 20 MEPs and a 25.40 per cent vote share, the Tories got 19 MEPs and a 23.93 per cent share. Below them were the Greens, with three MEPs and a 7.87 per cent share of the vote, while the Lib Dems managed a solitary MEP and 6.87 per cent of the vote.

The big story is not that Ukip have done well, but that three-quarters of the population didn’t vote. Paola Buonadonna, British Influence

In his acceptance speech after topping the poll in the south east, Ukip leader Nigel Farage promised: “You have not heard the last of us.”

He told reporters: “The message is people have had enough of not being told the truth and not being given the opportunity to express their opinion.”

Voter apathy

Some EU experts have told Channel 4 News that Ukip’s success at the European elections is a result of voter apathy – especially amongst young people – and not because of party politics.

Turnout in the UK was just 36 per cent – up from the 34.7 per cent in 2009 but behind the 38.52 per cent figure for 2004.

Dr Darren Sharpe of Anglia Ruskin University, told Channel 4 News: “I fear that young people [by not voting] are sleepwalking towards a referendum on Europe.

“Young people are not politicised on Europe. Ukip is not on their radar – but they are also unable to distinguish what other parties are saying about Europe.”

Paola Buonadonna, media director at pro-European think tank British Influence, told Channel 4 News: “The big story is not that Ukip have done well, but that three-quarters of the population didn’t vote. This shows there is a huge problem in the democratic process.”

I fear that young people are sleepwalking towards a referendum on Europe. Dr Darren Sharpe, Anglia Ruskin University

A recent Daily Mirror YouGov poll also found that only 30 per cent of the estimated 3.3 million eligible first-time voters said they intended to vote in Sunday’s European election. The survey of Britons aged 17-21 underlines fears from the main parties that young people are increasingly disengaged from politics.

Ms Buonadonna added: “Young people who grew up without a word about the workings of the EU in their school curriculum and know very little about Europe and feel it doesn’t touch them.”

Joseph Holt, project manager for Reconnecting UK Youth to Europe, Euclid Network, told Channel 4 News: “The reality is that young people in the UK receive very little information about the EU and its impact on their lives. With a lack of education and accessible information, it is unsurprising that there is a feeling of apathy among young voters and therefore a low-turnout.”

Russell Brand affect

According to a YouGov poll for Channel 4 News, Ukip supporters are predominantly older than those of the other parties, with people aged over 60-plus their best demographic.

A Daily Mirror/YouGov poll found that 41 per cent of young voters said they would vote Labour if there was a general election tomorrow, while 22 per cent say they would vote Conservative. Ukip polled on 10 per cent among the same age group, ahead of the Liberal Democrats on 8 per cent.

Only slightly fewer (12 per cent) would choose Alan Sugar or Russell Brand, who last year told Jeremy Paxman he does not vote.

Sixth form student, Joel Pearce, 17, told Channel 4 News: “When Russell Brand talks about not voting, people can identify with it because it’s someone outside of the political bubble proposing a radical alternative.

You look at the result and realise that when we don’t vote it’s the extremist parties that do well. Joel Pearce, sixth form student

“I remember when he did the interview with Jeremy Paxman, everyone was talking about it on Facebook and Twitter – I think it sparked a debate about how to change things outside of voting.

“Although I’ve heard a lot of rejection of that in the past couple of days; you look at the result of the European elections and realise that when we don’t vote it’s the extremist parties that do well.”

Mr Pearce added: “From what I can tell most young people don’t identify with Ukip’s message. I think it’s really shown the consequences of not voting – Ukip’s message was amplified by turnout being so low. So young people who disagree with Ukip’s views will be more likely to vote to prevent that happening again.”

Dr Darren Sharpe added: “I hope the Ukip result can galvanise young people to engage with the democratic process. Black and minority ethnic students will be asking are they [Ukip] anti-me? However, this debate can only happen with a counter argument through government, education and the European Union.”

Channel 4 News approached Ukip for a comment but it has yet to respond.