While voters may live to regret their choices in a general election, they are free to have their say yet again a mere five years later. A disagreeable government may be overturned. Not so with the matter at hand in just two weeks’ time. Our membership of the European Union – or, if it so transpires, our decision remove ourselves from it – is a choice that will, and can, only be put to the people once in a generation. One way or another, we will live with the consequences for decades to come.
That is why it is so important that turnout on polling day is high, and that every eligible citizen has ensured that they are properly registered to vote. Yet, millions of UK citizens – in particular, the young people who will feel the effects of that decision most significantly during their working lives – are still missing from the electoral roll.
Since mid May more than 1.35 million people have signed up to vote, according to the Electoral Commission. But that figure is dwarfed by the 7.5 million estimated still not to be on the electoral register who could easily swing the final result.
Recent figures suggest that up to 1.5 million of the 6 million UK residents aged between 18 and 24 are not registered, and a further quarter of the 8 million aged between 25 and 35.
Those who rent and move home address regularly are less likely to be registered, and they are more likely to be young. Other young people may have dropped off the electoral register thanks to changes to the registration system which came into effect last year. Parents are no longer allowed to register their adult children, even if – as is increasingly the case, given the depth of the housing crisis – they are still living under the same roof; universities cannot register their students en masse, automatically enrolling everyone living in student halls of residence. It is now up to young people to take responsibility for their right to vote – and it is a right that many grant too little credence.
Opinion polling indicates that those under the age of 35 are more likely to back the In campaign than their older friends and relatives. Aware that registration and turnout among younger citizens may proof crucial to their eventual victory, the In campaign is trying to inspire young people to engage with the EU referendum debate. Their methods have, however, proved questionable.
A poster and video campaign launched portrayed young people as “workin, earnin, shoppin, ravin, chattin” and – here comes the punchline – “votin”. The video was quickly condemned as “patronising”. It was also a rather embarrassing attempt at mimicking youth culture – a sure way to provoke eye-rolling as opposed to interest. If this is the best that the In campaign can do to reach out to the young and disenfranchised over a matter of such crucial importance to their lives, it must hope that it does not, in the event, rely on the support of that constituency to win the day.
There is, however, time to vote in the EU referendum expires on June 7. The Independent strongly supports remaining in a reformed EU, but it prizes above that the democratic right to vote and the importance of exercising it.
Whatever your views on the EU, we urge you to ensure that you are properly registered and listed on the electoral roll so that, when referendum day comes, you are able to make your voice heard. It is, after all, one of the most significant democratic decisions in which you will ever play a part.
The EU referendum debate has so far been characterised by bias, distortion and exaggeration. So until 23 June we will be running a series of question and answer features which will explain the most important issues involved in a detailed, dispassionate way to help inform your decision.
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