The attitude of young voters towards politics and the coming election may be a mass of contradictory colour, but it is not without definite outline.
On the surface, this demographic of, roughly speaking, 18-25s might seem a lost cause. Generational affiliations to Labour or the Tories have faded as quickly as the values traditionally associated with either party, and research by the Hansard Society suggests well over half of 18 to 24-year-olds may not be registered to vote at all.
In 2005, 60 per cent of the country inked the power-giving box, but only 37 per cent of 18-25s made the effort. Often despaired of as the turbo-consuming, piratical downloading, Google-searching have it alls, uninterested in national or global affairs, these young people have been patronised by the parties with Notting Hill Carnival baseball cap photo-ops and text messages promising unlimited drinking hours.
Such a misguided assumption – as pollsters and wonks from all the major political parties now realise and fear – is streets away from the truth. With almost 70 per cent enjoying daily online engagement, this vast shoal is by far the largest demographic group to suck in information and regularly share it. And a new study conducted by the Instigate Debate project – a cultural collective of musicians and writers looking to galvanise youth interest in current affairs, of which I am part – shows that political disaffection may be a consequence of well-informed opinion, rather than a lack of it.
The biggest off-put for young voters seems to be the arena itself and the cosiness of the club – that is, a belief in the unhindered ability of corporate media and corporate lobbying monoliths to terrify and bribe would-be governments, to the extent that actually entering high office is seen as a walk-on part in a horribly predictable farce.
Positively, 80 per cent of online respondents to our survey declared an in-principle intention to vote, but when asked about feelings towards the political class and workings of state, one single element proved not only poisonous enough to deter this critical act, but also persuaded many from any kind of civic or political engagement at all. Some 71 per cent cited "large corporations" as the most negative effect on life in the UK – this was up against options such as immigration or crime – and most disconcertingly, 80 per cent said the government of the day, of any colour or stripe, is most greatly influenced in policy direction by corporate power; ahead of choices such as the personal convictions of party leaders or the desires of the electorate.
Not all, but a significant section, of these all-consuming, logo-kitted, lifestyle-conscious individuals are feeling the attrition of 360 degree market-branding and targeted advertising. They are tolerating but also rejecting mass media and "savvy" product associations, and are seeking out something which suggests integrity to them. They are receptive to the single issue, more exotic clarion calls of NGOs because they do not perceive a vested interest.
The attitude of younger and first-time voters may not quite reunite them with the loftier, radical aspirations of their parents' youth, but it is unquestionable that they want to see a fairer, greener world. A study by Nuffield General Election Studies showed that if only the votes of young people were counted, Labour would have won every election in the past 40 years. But a new mistrust of the avaricious branch of the New Labour project will make young voter behaviour more volatile than ever.
Too many are put off by the queasy intimacy of politics and trans-national dominance. Neither the Tories nor the Liberal Democrats seem more ready to deal with this unedifying equation with the necessary teeth. So is the political party over, or can the main parties forge a new covenant of trust, unpolluted by corporate interest, or self-interest? The mechanisms of British politics and the regulations around influence upon its practitioner must change, and fast.
The next six years, not six electioneering weeks, will show whether it can, and whether the Facebook generation likes it.