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Survey finds that nearly half of young people are unhappy with UK democracy

Survey finds that nearly half of young people are unhappy with UK democracy

  • Date04 July 2024

In the run up to 2024 UK General Election, a team of academics from Royal Holloway, University of London, have conducted a survey which suggests that almost half of the young people surveyed are dissatisfied with how democracy works in the UK.


The IP-PAD Youth Survey UK, which included 1000 respondents aged 16-21 years old, found that 49% of respondents were dissatisfied with how democracy works in the UK, compared to only 29% who are satisfied.

The survey also found that dissatisfaction with democracy is even greater for the younger people aged 16-18 (52%) compared to the people aged 19-21 (47%).

The researchers believe that this could prove a concern for the next UK government and for democracy in the UK in general. Issues surrounding the participation of young people in political and social affairs have been debated during the election campaign.

Keir Starmer, the leader of the Labour party, suggested lowering the voting age for national elections from 18 to 16, while Prime Minister Rishi Sunak set out a plan that would require 18-year-olds take part in a form of national service if the Conservatives form the next government.

A recent YouGov survey from June 2024 that assessed the public’s support for some of the key policy pledges of the parties showed that lowering the voting age to 16 was opposed by 59% of the respondents across all age groups. Similarly, 54% opposed the national service issue. However, these percentages mask important differences across age groups.

Not surprisingly, it was the older respondents who strongly opposed the lowering of the voting age (79% of those aged 65+) and strongly supported a national service (60% of those aged 65+). For the voting age issue, the majority of those aged 18-24 supported the idea of allowing 16-year-olds to vote and vehemently opposed national service.

Different generations will have different views about policy issues but youth dissatisfaction with democracy poses risks for the future of the political system itself, say the researchers.

Professor Manos Tsakiris, from the Department of Psychology at Royal Holloway, said: “Across many countries we are witnessing a decline in youth satisfaction with democracy, both in absolute terms but also relative to how older generations felt at the same stages in life. Inevitably, politicians and policy makers will have to work together with young people to figure out how this trend can be reversed.”

The IP-PAD Youth Survey UK also revealed that those who are less interested in politics are also the ones who are more likely to be dissatisfied.

Dr Kaat Smets, from the Department of Politics, International Relations and Philosophy at Royal Holloway, added: “Young people are less likely to participate in elections. This makes political parties less inclined to focus on this age group of the electorate.

“However, political parties ought to take young people’s issues and concerns seriously so that they feel incentivized to partake in the democratic process in the future.”

With regards to the main concerns that young people in the UK have, more than 50% of the people surveyed thought the cost of living crisis, inflation or economy in general were the most important issues the country is facing today.

Irene Arahal, also from the Department of Politics, International Relations and Philosophy, noted: “Economic insecurity dominates young people’s concerns, followed by the current state of politics and elected politicians.

“These figures resonate with their dissatisfaction and overall disinterest in politics. Taking the youth’s concerns into serious consideration will be an important challenge for the future government.”

The main policy concerns that young people have seem to also make them worried about what their future holds.  More than 60% of young people are afraid about the impact that the economic and political situation will have on their future, and only 17% of those asked said that they are not afraid about the impact on their future.

Olaf Borghi, from the Department of Psychology, added: “In addition to addressing the youth’s concerns, the ways by which young people can participate more in politics could hopefully have a positive impact on how they will feel about their future; less worried and more optimistic.”

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