Youth turnout: how Labourites fell for fake news

During the 2017 General Election campaign, media commentators and politicians swooned over young voters, raved about how important it was for the yoof to get out of bed and vote, and championed issues important to the under-25s. While this has been a feature of recent elections, it went a step further this year. And suggestions that youth turnout was higher than usual had Labourites particularly excited.

Following the election result, a youth blogger and the chair of the Youth Vote UK campaign, Alex Cairns, tweeted: ‘The turnout from 18-24 year olds will be around 72/73%! Finally the Youth have turnedddd out!!’ This (as it turned out) unverified guess was soon circulated by commentators, MPs and activists. ‘Some people are surprised. We are not’, tweeted former NUS president Malia Bouattia. ‘Big up yourselves’, tweeted Tottenham Labour MP David Lammy, complete with emoji fist-bumps.

Despite pollsters warning that turnout wouldn’t be clear until much later, the celebrations continued. The Mirror called it the ‘revenge of the youth!’. ‘You hear the sound of old people quaking in their boots’, was the Tab’s take. Meanwhile, feminist magazine Refinery 29 wrote: ‘A warning to detached politicians and older generations: if you didn’t see us before, you certainly do now.’

But reality soon ruined the party. Today YouGov released its in-depth post-election analysis, and it puts the turnout figure at 57 per cent among 18- to 19-year-olds and 59 per cent among 20- to 24-year-olds. ‘Despite an increase in youth turnout’, it said, ‘young people are still noticeably less likely to vote than older people’. When Cairns was asked by a BBC fact-checker how he came to the 72 per cent figure, he was unable to provide any proof. ‘Mr Cairns stressed that the figure was “an indication” and was based on conversations with students’ union presidents and his own research, but did not show us his calculations’, the BBC reported.

This is embarrassing. Journalists, politicians and campaigners happily circulated a false figure. This surely counts as fake news – the phenomenon that so many on the liberal-left have been getting their knickers in a twist about of late. Remember the panic about Brexit and Trump voters being deceived by fake news? Apparently Labour bigwigs are now the primary victims and propagators of it. How ironic.

Ella Whelan is assistant editor at spiked. Follow her on Twitter: @Ella_M_Whelan

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