Britain’s first-time voters: pro-EU, socially liberal – and no fans of Farage

Ukip Bus

They are pro-European, socially liberal, regard unemployment and poverty as more important issues than race relations or immigration, and the vast majority are regular users of social media.

There are more than 3 million young people in their generation, now aged 17 to 22, who will have a first chance to vote in a UK general election next May and who could, potentially, decide its outcome. 

According to a wide-ranging survey of their views by Opinium for the Observer, they are broadly optimistic about the jobs market – even outside south-east England – and most say that unpaid internships are a good thing if they help young people into permanent employment.

Politically, Labour has a 15-point lead (by 41% to 26%) over the Conservatives among these first-time voters, who shun Ukip and its leader, Nigel Farage.

More than three times as many of them – 19% – support the Greens as back the Liberal Democrats (6%), demonstrating how Nick Clegg’s party has lost the young and student vote since the high point of “Cleggmania” in 2010. Just 3% back Ukip.

Opinium/Observer poll: what young people are thinking
Opinium/Observer poll: what young people are thinking. Click here for large version Photograph: Observer

Strikingly, Farage is the most unpopular of the four main party leaders among 2015’s first-time voters, scoring a net -51% (when the number who disapprove is subtracted from those who approve). Clegg is on -44% and Ed Miliband on -18%, while David Cameron, despite his party being much less popular than Labour, fares comfortably the best on -6%.

For Labour, despite the doubts young people share with older voters about the party leader’s performance to date, the findings will be encouraging. Its challenge between now and polling day will be to make sure that young people, who are traditionally reluctant to turn out to vote, do so in as large a number as possible.

At the last election just 44% of voters aged 18 to 24 cast their votes, compared with 69% of those aged 45 to 54, 73% aged 55 to 64, and 76% aged 65 and over.

Engaging them by social media could be a big part of the answer. Some 92% of potential first-time voters in May 2015 either have an account with Facebook or have used it in the last 12 months; 68% use Twitter, 55% Instagram, 33% engage through The Student Room, and 33% through Tumblr.

The survey found that they are much less likely than older voters to use traditional methods of political engagement, such as writing to an MP or other elected politician, or attending a public meeting. Only 3% said they would think of joining a political party compared with 10% of older voters.

While they seem to lean to the left on many issues, they are more likely to trust Cameron and chancellor George Osborne to run the economy than Miliband and Ed Balls. A clear majority (59%) thought the deficit should be reduced primarily by cutting spending rather than raising taxes (18%).

They also support retaining the monarchy by a large margin. Some 65% think it should be kept, while only one in five (20%) believe the country should become a republic.

Their liberal social attitudes are clear, but are complemented by some more traditional values: 77% support the legalisation of same-sex marriage, the same proportion as think there is nothing wrong with sex outside marriage. This compares with 50% and 67% among the rest of the voting population, respectively. However, 67% say that getting married and having children is important to them, and 52% say having two parents is important for children.

Some 72% of this generation expect to live for free at their family home as they seek their first job and in the first years of employment, or have already done so. Half of those who do not own their own home say that they expect to buy a property between the ages of 25 and 29.

Opinium research carried out an online survey of 503 Britons aged 17 to 22, from 18 to 22 December 2014, and 2,003 UK adults between 19 and 23 December 2014. Results have been weighted to nationally representative criteria

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Toby Helm, political editor, for The Observer on Saturday 27th December 2014 20.56 Europe/London

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