Youth Vote GE2020

Gavin Treacy analyses how voters between 18-29 would vote.

With almost 700,000 people aged 18 to 29, the youth vote has always had the potential to be a powerful electoral force in Irish politics. While there are a multiplicity of factors at play that influence voter behaviour, age, along with class and income level, are among the most important. Older people tend to vote in much higher numbers than any other demographic, the so-called “grey vote” and as such politicians know that in order to keep their seats they must ensure that they cater to their needs. 

However, with the youth vote (18-24) nearly always being much lower than other age brackets, politicians do not feel the same pressure to ensure that the interests of younger people are catered to as well. This has been changing for the better in past decades, with the percentage of youth voters in elections rising from 53% in 2002 to 75% in 2011, according to data published by the Oireachtas. This is despite the downward trend in overall voter turnout, with overall turnout having never surpassed 70% since the 1982 General Election. 

The events of the past two decades have impacted the political leanings of the younger generation - the share of support for the two titans of Irish politics, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, has dropped significantly. The memories of the recession and austerity have turned tens of thousands of young people away from voting Fianna Fáil, and the spiralling rental and housing crisis has left support for Fine Gael amongst young people, especially in Dublin, at a low point. 

In an Irish Times poll of voting intentions of 18-24 year olds, support for Fine Gael sits at only 16%, with Fianna Fáil at 15%. Labour is at an abysmal 2%. Support for more left wing parties, such as the Greens (15%) and parties labelled as “other” which would include the Social Democrats, People Before Profit and Independants, sits at 40%, with Sinn Fein at 27%. 

In another poll of what is most important to voters between 18-24 carried out by the Irish Times, 51% of respondents said housing was the most important issue facing them, trailed by health at 18%, then climate change at 16%. This would explain the lack of support for Fine Gael. 

When asked about their desire for change, 44% responded that “The Government has not made enough progress in important areas and it is time for a change”, with 29% saying that they felt radical change was needed. Only 16% responded that “The Government has made progress in important areas and deserves to be allowed to get on with the job of securing a better future”.

However, these polls also indicate why generational politics cannot always be trusted as an accurate way to view things. The desire for radical change tops the polls amongst votes aged over 50 - and the Irish Times offered no definition of what was meant by “radical”. 

Many young people will not be eligible to vote, due to the fact that the register will not be updated until the 15th February, leaving those who signed up to vote in the past year left in the lurch. There was a concerted push from organisations such as USI and UCDSU to get students and young people signed up to the supplementary register before the cut off date of the 22nd of January. 

In terms of voting predictions, it is impossible to say.  In broad strokes however, one can clearly see how issues that will affect young people disproportionately such as rent and housing costs, as well as climate change, will see a youth vote that leans left and is tinged green. That is, of course, assuming that young people do in fact get out and vote.