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General election 2017: will student voters turn out?

It’s one of many things the pollsters can’t predict: will young people turn out in force on Thursday to vote in the general election? If our editorial interns Nick and Natasha are anything to go by, they will – which could have a transformative effect on the result.

We asked Nick and Natasha, who have both just completed their undergraduate degrees, to respond to a series of questions about the run-up to the 2017 general election. Both felt last year’s EU referendum had been a game-changer, and had made their peers acutely aware of the importance of voting. Both wanted clarity about policies rather than a focus on individual leaders. And both were wary of social media, with its potential to fuel fights and spread misleading information – though they saw upsides to it too.

Are the Millennials about to flex their electoral muscle, and what matters to them most? Here are Nick and Natasha with a snapshot of the pre-election mood among student voters.

Has Brexit had any impact on your thinking about how to vote?

Natasha: It definitely has. While Brexit has not always been at the forefront of the election campaign, it is always lurking in the background. Many young people became more interested in politics through the EU referendum, and the repeated rhetoric that it would be ‘the most important vote of a generation’ encouraged them to vote. The referendum created a sense that your vote would have consequences, and an impact on politics.

Nick: Absolutely. Brexit was the first time I exercised my right to vote. In terms of the process of Brexit, it feels like we’re in limbo at the moment – the eye of the storm. What I hope people my age will take away from Brexit is that everyone should get out there and vote. Those who don’t vote don’t have the power to sway an election.

What part do you think social media has played in the run-up to the election?

Natasha: I think it makes our peers more politically engaged. Everyone seems to want to show their support or condemnation of particular parties. A number of my friends were particularly keen on urging their Facebook friends to register to vote before the 23 May deadline. This acted almost as peer pressure to get more young people to vote.

Social media also plays an interesting role in swaying people’s beliefs. It is so hard to monitor sources on social media and the circulation of incorrect information can happen very quickly.

Nick: The good thing about social media is that it is a platform for people to explain their views. However, the prevalence of social media is also its danger. The fact that now everyone is their own publisher means that there is a huge volume of opinionated content on social media. The problem with this is that these opinions are largely unverifiable – nothing can be taken at face value. There can be so much vitriol involved in political arguments on Facebook and Twitter that it’s off-putting. This kind of mudslinging detracts from looking at core issues.

Is there anything you’ve found helpful in getting the information you need to decide how to vote? Has anything made it more difficult?

Natasha: I have found newspapers (especially their apps) very helpful in getting condensed explanations of the differing parties’ manifestos and interview mishaps. Sites such as iSideWith can also be extremely helpful in determining which party your priorities are aligned with.

I have found social media to be hit-and-miss in terms of helping make a decision. It can be a quick way of keeping up to date with the constantly shifting political climate, but it also seems to spark heated debates between family members and friends, or even against strangers, emboldened by the barrier of a screen.

Political leaders have also made the decision more difficult. Everyone seems to be constantly bickering over who is worse than the other, rather than just spelling out what their policies are. It seems more like the underhand tactics of the Red Wedding than an election based on policies.

Nick: The frustrating thing about this election is how acidic political campaigns now seem to be. This is a mentality imported from the US with Trump’s outspoken brashness and distaste for ‘fake news’. The term ‘post-truth’ is often chucked about nowadays. Uncorroborated facts and figures appear out of thin air, and the televised debates and interviews were peppered with cringe-worthy moments. I’d rather see candidates debate issues than go through abortive attempts to exaggerate their “I’m just like you” image.

What do you think are the key issues for young people and your peers generally?

Natasha: I think young people care about their representation in government and are looking for a change from high university fees and difficulties getting a house in the current market. Many young people are also concerned with longer term issues such as the economy, Brexit and climate change.

Since the EU referendum I have generally noticed an increase in political engagement, especially in terms of social media. Because students are allowed to register to vote at their home and term-time addresses, many of my friends have judged where to vote tactically and have chosen the constituency where they believe their vote will have most impact. This was not something I witnessed during the 2015 election – there is a general feeling that this election is especially important.

Nick: Most students feel strongly about scrapping or reducing tuition fees. They also have grievances with austerity. I think a lot of interest in this election stems from how divisive budget slashing has been.

Brexit is another key issue, as is healthcare, given how stretched the emergency services are and how ruthless budget cuts have proved. Then there is the effect of recent events, with security fears following the recent terror attacks. Also, with Trump tossing the Paris Agreement in the bin, there will be increasing concern about the UK’s stance on the environment.

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