As well as working on the BU poll, Politics & Media Group researchers have teamed up with Opinium to conduct research on political participation around the forthcoming election. Our initial analysis allows us to build a more representative picture of attitudes and behaviours across all UK voters as well as among the youth.
Firstly the headline, Labour are likely to gain most votes, but only by a small percentage. So the result will be close and the outcome as uncertain as in 2010. The Liberal Democrat vote is likely to collapse and UKIP may be the major beneficiaries. But among the young patterns are somewhat different.
Among the 18-24s Labour are the majority choice, with the Conservatives only just ahead of the Greens. While 10% of the overall electorate may be voting UKIP it is only 2.9% of the young nationally.
But while across all voters only 7.6% have no intention to vote, among the 18-24s it is 19%, they are also the group most likely to say they do not know with 22% unsure how to or whether to vote. Students, although only 17% of the sample, are most likely to vote but also are most likely to be undecided.
But let us not write off young people as apathetic or apolitical, uncaring of the world around them. Many reports commissioned for UK Parliament and Hansard Society studies find they have good reasons for withdrawing from electoral politics, largely considering their vote worthless, politicians care little for their concerns or seeing the parties as too similar and disconnected from society.
We also find evidence that they find ways to be political even if they choose to eschew the ritual of the ballot box.
They are as likely at 39% to sign a petition, the national average being 40%. They are more likely to follow politicians or parties on social media, 13% compared to the national average of 10%.
More indicative of their sympathies, they are the most likely to follow NGOs on social media 21% compared with a national average of 14%. Equally they are the group most likely to share political content on social media, 16% compared to the national average of 12%.
They are even higher than the national average for commenting about politics, 22% compared to 16% and 53% report discussing politics with friends and family.
Therefore we find a rich picture of engagement among young people despite them being the group least likely to vote.
Young people across the country, independent of their career status, educational background or demographics are engaging in politics.
But they appear less likely to engage with parties, they do not join and they are least likely to contact their MP. Perhaps, within the diet of social media engagement, they have alternative means to have their say.
They are also the group who are least likely to rate highly any of the party leaders.
Perhaps due to unfamiliarity, or perhaps due to the leaders not talking about the things that matter to them, but ratings for performance are low.
There is a major problem at the heart of the youth vote conundrum.
Campaign strategists calculate their efforts on return. They spend money on designing and disseminating messages to appeal to those groups most easily convinced to vote for them.
If the young are considered unlikely to vote there is no ‘profit’ in targeting young people.
Hence we may find a vicious circle at work where the political campaigns target the older generations and the young feel ignored and ignore the campaigns in return.
Rather they turn to those that engage online and who are committed to the causes they support: the NGOs who crowdsource via social media.
But, what is clear, is young people are not simply sharing pictures of themselves, cats or their breakfast, they are as or more politically active as any other generation, they just happen not to see voting as the best way of expressing themselves politically.
Dr Darren G. Lilleker is Associate Professor of Political Communication, author of Political Communication and Cognition and researcher of patterns of political participation in the digital age.