How to steal the youth vote in Britain
They're critical to deciding the next general election – but will any of the political parties actually do what they must to win over young voters?
In the world of Westminster, where common sense has to be explained to politicians by policy wonks in wordy reports, new research from Demos has revealed something painfully obvious to normal people.
Namely, that young people really do care about political issues. It's just the political parties they hate so much.
To many of the MPs currently engaged in festive overeating, bolstering their middle regions for the long general election campaign to come, the idea they could actually win the young vote has been preposterous.
"Young people just don't vote," they'll tell you, as they focus their policies on the elderly and the middle-class. Who cares what they think?
Actually, that's not going to be true in 2015. Not at all.
— Demos (@Demos) December 30, 2014
Fifty-two per cent of young people say they're going to vote at the next general election. Another 25% say they'll 'probably' vote.
And with half of these not yet having made their minds up about which party to back, this is a group of people which David Cameron and Ed Miliband should be doing everything they can to win over.
Here's a party-by-party rundown of the options available to young people.
Nigel Farage's 'People's Army' are getting a lot of attention. A lot of people complain about that, but they did win the European elections in 2014 outright.
The thing is, Kippers care about right-wing issues that simply don't bother the young. Welfare, immigration, Europe: these are never going to get young voters going.
That leaves the real fight for young voters between the three main parties…
The idea that students will vote en masse for the Tories seems laughable. While there will always be toffee-nosed spotty loudmouths who confidently declare their Conservative values at the party's autumn conference, it was widely thought they could be dismissed as just a handful of students playing a game.
Now that stereotype should be put to one side, because it turns out young people could be won over to support David Cameron en masse after all.
"Young people's views transcend what would traditionally be called 'left' and 'right'," the report says.
A majority think individual responsibility should be more important than state assistance – a fundamental Tory value.
The flip-side of that, though, is that over half of young people are very concerned about the huge gap between the richest and the poorest in Britain right now. That is a Labour issue all over.
Ed Miliband's party is also ahead when it comes to the policies most likely to motivate young people to vote: a living wage and a jobs guarantee, for example.
Labour's 'jobs guarantee' sounds an awful lot like the most popular policy for young people – a guaranteed job or apprenticeship for the long-term unemployed. Which means the pressure is on Miliband to make the most of the opportunity this potential group offers.
The second highest on the list of policy wishes is 'reducing the cost of higher education', which is rather awkward for Nick Clegg and co.
That video in which the deputy prime minister said 'sorry' for breaking the pledge on tuition fees hasn't been forgotten. Nor has the anger of the students who messed up Westminster and its surrounds in 2011.
The Lib Dems are now viewed as a party of the establishment and must prepare to pay a hefty price for it.
A way out?
Even the Lib Dems, though, stand a chance of being able to limit the damage.
Young voters, the report says, can still be won over because many of the issues remain unresolved.
The top concerns for young people are living costs, affordable housing, unemployment and the NHS – the same as everyone, really.
Young people are more worried than any other age group about online privacy, so if any single party can come up with a distinctive policy addressing that this could help.
More important than policies, though, the relationship needs to change. Young people are engaged in politics but not with the political parties because they think the political parties are rubbish.
They want more working class MPs and they want more MPs from the background they actually claim to represent.
There is a real appetite for more politicians to get on social media – and use it to genuinely engage rather than just as a platform for their own views.
The best MPs on Twitter have an authentic voice and engage with the medium http://t.co/K3QdDHYt
— Ian Dunt (@IanDunt) July 12, 2012
Two-thirds of young people think they'd be more likely to vote if they could do so online.
What the Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem parties need to do is change the way they operate and open themselves up to policies that young people actually care about.
With little more than 100 days until the general election, though, that doesn't seem very much like it's going to happen.
But perhaps one of the party manifestos, which are being written up right now in secret, will provide an unexpected focus on the young.
In a deadlocked election contest, expected to be the closest in decades, the young might just make all the difference.
The question now is whether any of the mainstream parties will realise it – and make the most of the opportunity.