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Brexit Vote Reveals The Generation Gap In The United Kingdom

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Brexit Vote Reveals The Generation Gap In The United Kingdom

Politics & Policy

Brexit Vote Reveals The Generation Gap In The United Kingdom

Brexit Vote Reveals The Generation Gap In The United Kingdom

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/481280063/481750719" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Men wearing pro-Brexit T-shirts at an event in London on May 11. Polls show that older voters are more like to vote for the United Kingdom leaving the European Union, while younger voters are more likely to cast ballots to stay in the EU. Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images hide caption

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Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Men wearing pro-Brexit T-shirts at an event in London on May 11. Polls show that older voters are more like to vote for the United Kingdom leaving the European Union, while younger voters are more likely to cast ballots to stay in the EU.

Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The June 23 referendum on whether the United Kingdom should leave the European Union has revealed one clear gap: younger voters are much more likely to favor staying in the E.U. compared to older ones. A recent study found that 69 percent of those under age 35 want to stay and 46 percent of those older than 55 favor leaving.

That should be good news for E.U. backers known as the Remain Campaign. But there's a complication: younger voters are also less likely to actually cast a ballot.

The vote on the "Brexit," short for a British exit, covers the entire U.K. — England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

As the vote approaches, get-out-the-vote groups are racing from one event to the next, trying to make sure everyone knows when and how to vote. Unhappily for younger voters, there won't be any online voting, though votes can be cast by mail.

In a London University classroom on a recent Saturday morning, people huddled in small groups to hash out some of the issues surrounding the vote, such as immigration or the potential economic impacts.

Salma Nizami, a 20-year-old student, is not in the relatively large bloc of undecided voters. She's sure that remaining in the EU is the best option. She's also studying politics. But even someone as politically aware as Nizami nearly missed registering to vote in the most recent election – last month's vote for the mayor of London.

"It was kind of a rush, actually, because I had completely forgotten," she says. "Because at that time I was moving around a lot, so I didn't know where I was registered, I didn't know what was going on. And I was just like, 'Oh my God I need to vote!'"

Tripped Up By The Details

One hurdle is registering to vote. A number of young people reported giving up on registering when they were asked for the British equivalent of their social security number, which they didn't know.

In fact, they could have registered without it and filled in that detail later, but many didn't know that, either. As the June 7 deadline for registration closed in, the online system was overwhelmed by last-minute registrants and crashed, forcing the government to extend the deadline.

This turnout problem among young voters isn't new, and some see a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy at work. Tanya Abraham, with the online polling company YouGov, says since young people are less likely to vote, campaigns tend to gear their messages to the concerns of those who most likely will – the older voters.

"So you've got things like pension, health, also education is important, perhaps, for the middle-aged voters," she says. "But for younger voters, they don't really have those issues that they're dealing with directly, so the older individual gets more issues that crop up for them."

One group trying to combat that trend is called Bite the Ballot, a nonpartisan, get-out-the-vote organization that does a lot of work with young people.

Organizer Josh Pugh says this EU referendum has been a frustrating one for him. In his view, neither campaign has done much to engage younger voters – and they can feel it.

"I go to stuff all the time where people tell me, like, 'politics is boring, I want something else.' That's where Bite the Ballot come in," he says. "If you're young, marginalized, politically unrepresented, why should you feel represented when it comes to politics?"

And there, it seems, is where things sit. Younger people are less reliable as voters, and so they tend to get ignored. In this vote, that's not good news for the Remain campaign.