#RealityCheck: The importance of the youth vote

Odran Flynn warns that the youth vote cannot be ignored

#RealityCheck: The importance of the youth vote

Crowds at Dublin Castle on the day of the marriage equality referendum | Photocall file photo

Although there may well be objections from those aged in the middle to late 20’s the young vote is regarded as the 18 to 24 age group.

While they may not be as influential as the over 65 sector in terms of numbers and propensity to vote, it would be foolish of any politician or party to underestimate their impact.

How many vote?

Research shows that historically 43% of this age group vote compared to 78% of over 65’s. If this trend holds on Friday then some 180,000 will go to the polling stations.

The 43% turnout is due to a number of factors, not least of which is the disengagement from the political system of many young people in working class areas. They have suffered disproportionately in terms of employment, third level education opportunities and investment in their communities.

Emigration is also a factor irrespective of social class. Many feel that there is no point in voting as nothing will change.

However there was an intriguing exception to this last May for the Same Sex Marriage referendum when it is probable that young people voted in greater numbers than in any previous type of election.

It is estimated that the young vote increased by at least 10% points above the average last May, which in part was a result of 60,000 primarily young people registering to vote in the final few weeks before polling day . The question is how many will, having been part of a successful campaign that did change something, return to cast a ballot on the 26th?

A survey released earlier this week has found that some 83% of young voters plan to vote in Friday’s election.

The research, by PR firm Thinkhouse, predicts that following last year’s Marriage Equality Referendum young voters in Ireland are more engaged than ever.

Of those surveyed, 92% are registered to vote, with 83% saying they plan to vote on Friday – which would be a major increase over the 70% turnout in the 2011 general election.

The economy, social issues, abortion, homelessness and the refugee crisis rank as the most important issues for young voters. Environmental issues, culture and the arts and education were ranked as the issues young people felt they wanted talked about more in the campaign.

It may well depend on whether there is an issue that provides a focal point to interest them. The most likely issue could relate to the growing momentum behind the campaign to repeal the 8th Amendment.  However rather than vote now they may decide to wait until an actual referendum before engaging to the same extent again.

The trend on social media

The focus one education is carried over into social media, where 19% of all social media mentions by users in the 18-25 demographic was on the topic of education.

A survey by PSG Communications – in partnership with Cloud 90 – found that registering to vote, health, the economy, the 8th amendment ad jobs were the other main talking points for young voters on social media.

Education is the number one election topic discussed by the 18-25 demographic on social media, according to new research.

The research found that the environment, Irish Water, tourism, Right2Change, emigration, and family issues were less popular topics discussed among the 18 -25 demographic on social media, with all receiving less than two percent of total social mentions.

The Taoiseach has the best ratio of positive to negative mentions on social media amongst the 18-25 grouping, with 58% of all mentions of Enda Kenny being positive in nature, and just 42% negative.

Men in the 18-25 age group are more vocal than women of the same age group when it comes to election issues on social media.

The study found that 66% of social mentions regarding the election came from men.

Commenting on this figure and on the wider results of the research was Creative Director of New Slang, Sean Earley.

“One could speculate that the Irish political debate is offering up talking points that Irish men are quicker to react than the female electorate, or more simply that men feel more comfortable commenting on politics through their social media channels.

“This is interesting considering "Repeal the 8th" is the fifth most prominent talking point amongst the 18 – 25 demographic. Other potentially contributing factors to this could be related to the ongoing debate around the imbalance of female politicians in the Dáil and gender quotas."

“If we examine the most discussed topics it’s no surprise that education and jobs feature highly in social media conversations within the 18-25 demographic. Education, registering to vote, and jobs all featured highly in our research as opposed to some of the more social issues young people are traditionally associated with. Issues like the environment, emigration, equality, and homelessness, featured much lower in our research than the more mainstream issues of the day,” he added.

Who do they vote for?

An average of recent opinion polls reveals that Sinn Fein is the largest recipient with some 29% of the 18-24 votes. This translates into approximately 52,000 votes, while Fine Gael is in second place with 22% which is equal to support for the Others.

Fianna Fail is at 18% and trailing in last is Labour Party on just 9%. It is the vote at either end of the scale that will attract the most attention. Sinn Fein has consistently shown in polls to be the most popular party among young people but therein lays a difficulty.

As a significant portion of this support is in, what are termed working class areas, a number of those who tell a pollster that they will vote do not follow through by actually casting their ballot. This has led to a situation whereby Sinn Fein is regularly up to 3% points overstated in polls compared to the actual vote.

The disappointment for the Labour Party is that, despite being regarded as leading the campaign for same sex marriage, they have got little credit for it from the age group who will most benefit from the change to the law.

They will be hoping that as the election campaign becomes more intense this group will reengage with the Party.

The constituencies where the potential for the biggest impact to be made by the young vote is Galway West, Dublin Bay South, Cork North-Central, Limerick City and Dublin South-West.

While these have the largest number of potential voters, the destination of the final seat in the majority of constituencies can be influenced by young people.

Over the next three weeks expect a major effort by younger candidates to target this vote.

Live from @ElectionNT