Ballot-box debutants: My first vote

Britain's youngsters are confounding fears they would shun the polls. Joanna Moorhead hears what they have to say.
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This week, 3,100,000 young people will get the chance to vote in a general election for the first time. So, as these first-timers prepare to dip their toes in the democratic process, how do they feel about the campaign and who do they want in No 10?

Siobhan Henry, 18

Sixth-former at the London Oratory School, west London

Voting Labour is controversial among my friends because everyone is saying Gordon Brown hasn't got a cat in hell's chance of winning and I shouldn't waste my vote. Most are voting Lib Dem – but they're basing their ideas on the TV debates and I think that's a bit shallow, really. OK, so Nick Clegg has come off best – most people I know think David Cameron is a bit smarmy and interested in looking after the middle and upper classes, and they blame Gordon Brown for the economic problems. Clegg looks personable, so they're going for him. That seems naive to me – and also people forget that Brown was a good chancellor, and he looked after this country well economically for a long time.

Voting: Labour

Jessica Bentley, 21

Second-year student at Warwick University

I didn't know much about the political process until the campaign started, but it's got me hooked – and a lot of my friends are the same. Looking back, we didn't know much at all – I've heard people asking questions like, what's a referendum? I think a lot of us took a bit of notice when Obama was elected in the US, and in some ways it feels as though the wind of change is blowing here, too, in that there's something different going on that could change the system. I think Clegg is a new, fresh voice on the political scene, and he came across incredibly well in the TV debates. I've watched all the debates, with groups of friends – there are parties planned to watch the results programme next week, too.

Voting: Lib Dem

James Kennedy, 20

Second-year English student at Leeds University

It's exciting being a first-time voter, especially in this election: there's a real buzz around. I don't know why anyone thinks my generation is apathetic – most people I know are definitely planning to vote. The issues affect us, after all. Tuition fees are on the agenda; everyone is talking about that. And politics is very accessible. I've watched the TV debates, a lot of my friends have done the same, and the political parties have got stuff up on YouTube and so on. I don't think politicians need to try too hard with new media: it's a bit annoying when they try to be tuned in to things like Facebook. At the end of the day, it's not how they reach us, it's what they say – and I'm hearing their messages. The election is definitely a big topic of conversation at the moment.

Voting: Labour

Eleanor Wittet, 18

Sixth-former in Oxford

People in the past fought to get us the right to vote, and it would be terrible to waste it. I would vote Labour, but they've got no chance of getting in here, say friends, so I'm going to vote tactically. I definitely don't want the Conservatives to win: they'd cut public spending too much, they'd squeeze higher education and they'd increase university fees. I'm excited by the idea of voting, and so are most of my friends. It feels like a step towards adulthood, it's about being part of the bigger society. At the last general election I went with my mum to the polling station, but I couldn't actually vote. I'm looking forward to going there again with her next week, but this time to put my cross on a ballot paper, too.

Voting: Lib Dem

Nish O'Connor, 19

First-year student at Bristol University

I'll vote, but I've not yet decided who for. A lot of people I know don't like David Cameron, but, for me, he's not out of the question – he seems like a nice person in the debates. I've watched some of the debates on the telly, but I feel I should know more. I'm determined to find out more before Thursday, because I definitely intend to vote. I feel a bit bad saying this, but the truth is I don't know much about the difference between the three parties. Other people of my age are a lot more involved. I see a lot on Facebook about what people are planning to vote, or what they think of the parties and the debates.

Voting: may vote Tory

Emma Bourton, 21

Third-year student at Southampton University

I think it's important to vote: you can't complain about what's going on in the country if you don't. Like most of my friends, I've watched the TV debates and we've all talked about them afterwards. I think a lot of people vote the way their families vote; and there are some people who don't engage much with it, and then they say they won't vote because they don't know enough about it and they don't want to make the wrong decision. I'd like to know more – but at the moment I think Nick Clegg wants to change things and I think things need to change.

Voting: Lib Dem

Elle Jenkinson, 18

First-year student at the London College of Fashion

I'd say I'm 80 per cent sure, but still mulling it over. I don't like David Cameron: he doesn't seem to be really in touch with people, even though he thinks he is. In the past I think I'd have voted Labour, but we need a change and Nick Clegg looks like the first Liberal leader for a long time who can really do a good job. Are young people interested in politics? I think we are – a lot more than older people seem to think, anyway. There's a lot of chat about it, both when you get together with friends and on Facebook. And the thing is that it's a new experience to be able to vote, and it makes us feel grown-up to take part in it, so most of us are. I have a few friends who are steering clear of the whole thing, but they're definitely in the minority.

Voting: may vote Lib Dem

Joe Steptoe, 19

On a gap year; lives in London

I'm very interested in politics. I got a chance to go and work in Chicago for the Democrats during the Obama campaign, and I'm going to study politics at university from this autumn. So I'll definitely be voting. I think it's a really important thing to do. The two main parties look tired, and this time around there's a real chance for the Lib Dems to make a difference. They're the most refreshing party, and I like their policies, too – I like the fact that they say they'll scrap tuition fees, and I like the fact that they say they'll make night buses stop "on request". It may be a minor change, but it'll make it a lot easier for young people to get home late at night.

Voting: Lib Dem

Elliott Sadgrove, 18

Sixth-former in London

Nick Clegg looks a strong character on TV, but I think it's about image and style. I've watched the live debates, and I know a lot of my friends have, but the trouble is that's just about celebrity status, and politics shouldn't be about that. We all know the British love an underdog – we saw that with The X Factor and Britain's Got Talent – but choosing the prime minister shouldn't be about that. Gordon Brown might not come across so well, but I've read what he says about the economy and I think what he's saying makes sense, and will help get this country back on its feet and out of debt. Tuition fees are something that will affect me a lot: the Tories will raise them a lot, the Lib Dems say they'll make university free, but I don't think that's realistic. Brown's plan, which is to raise the costs of university a bit, seems realistic.

Voting: Labour

Louis Collenette, 19

On a gap year; lives in London

Not a lot of people my age seem to like David Cameron – the general view is that he's more interested in getting into power than in doing anything when he gets there. No one I know is saying they'll vote Tory. I think Gordon Brown has had a rough time, and it's easy to criticise him in hindsight. But I'd certainly trust him. The Lib Dems, though, have policies that are more of interest to me: I'm going to university in the autumn, and it's only the Lib Dems who say they'll scrap tuition fees. On the campaign generally, one thing that I hate is when politicians try to appeal to young people with, for example, posters with graffiti-style writing.

Voting: Lib Dem

What they think in Derby North...

According to political scientists, Derby North is the key seat for David Cameron. Winning it would push him over the 326 mark, so giving him a majority. Our panel from the key marginal seems unconvinced

David Hindle, 47, independent financial adviser: "I used to think the Lib Dems were a wasted vote – now it's a real protest vote. It's a vote for the person who is most like me."

Was going to vote: Labour Will now vote: Lib Dem

Stevie Rosso, 64, community development officer: "I am very worried about David Cameron handling the economy. I remember the Thatcher years – it was a terrible time."

Was: Labour Now: Labour

John McCartney, 67, retired engineer:"I was beginning to think we were going to have a hung parliament, but now I think the Tories might have a majority of between 10 and 20."

Was: Conservative Now: Conservative

Coral Mark-Skitten, 35, full-time mother: "I don't believe anything Cameron says. I also wouldn't vote for the Lib Dems because they haven't been in power for so long."

Was: Labour, then Conservative Now: Labour

Simon Parks, 51, business consultant: "If I were to put my decision on these three debates, I would go with Gordon. He's my sort of person and they are my kind of policies."

Was: Labour Now: Labour

Sarah Russell, 20, law student:"If there was a hung parliament between the Tories and the Lib Dems it could be beneficial for Labour, but disastrous for the country."

Was: Labour Now: Labour

Steve Hassall, 33, manager of a cleaning company: "Gordon Brown is really looking desperate now. It started off as a two-horse race, went to a three-horse race, then back to two."

Was: Conservative Now: Conservative

Maria Winder, 63, retired:"I thought David Cameron and Nick Clegg did alright. I like the idea of something fresh. I really feel the Lib Dems can make a go of it."

Was: Conservatives Now: Lib Dem

Josh Eades, 35, law student: "When David Cameron tells us Britain's broken, it's an insult to everyone who is doing good work in this country."

Was: Labour Now: Labour

Hardeep Kaur Nanuwan, 23, MA student: "I was undecided, and I'm still not sure. I might go for Cameron, as Labour have had their time twice now."

Was: undecided Now: still undecided