The latest research conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies looks at how interested England’s 16-to-25-year-olds are in politics and considers how different levels of interest influence young people’s views of the UK’s Government and main political parties.
Overall, we find that four-fifths of 16-to-25-year-olds in England take at least some interest in politics: 15% take a ‘significant interest,’ a further 42% take a ‘moderate interest,’ and 27% take ‘some interest’ in politics. A notable 18% take ‘no interest at all.’
Our research suggests that levels of political interest tend to be broadly similar within each respondent’s social circle. Among those who take a ‘significant interest’ in politics themselves, 37% say that, from what they gather, their friends also take a ‘significant interest’ in politics, while only 2% say their friends take no active interest in politics. Conversely, among those who are not at all interested in politics themselves, only 6% say their friends take a ‘significant interest,’ with 55% instead saying their friends also take ‘no interest at all.’
Perhaps influenced by similar levels of political interest, 59% of 16-to-25-year-olds polled are comfortable debating political issues with their friends, compared to 29% who are uncomfortable. Moreover, among those enrolled in an educational institution, 57% are comfortable debating political issues at school or university, while 36% are not.
How much interest young people themselves take in politics appears to influence how comfortable they are debating political issues in different contexts. Strong majorities of those with a significant interest in politics feel comfortable debating political issues with their friends (83%) and, if enrolled in an educational institution, at school or university (72%). Given that those with an active interest are more likely to be better informed about political topics, a greater sense of personal competency when it comes to political discussions may be driving these results.
To be sure, a lack of political interest does not necessarily have to mean a lack of political awareness or understanding. Nevertheless, among 16-to-25-year-olds with no interest in politics, views on how comfortable respondents would be discussing political topics in different contexts are significantly more split. While 35% would be comfortable debating political issues with their friends, for instance, a nearly identical 36% would not be comfortable doing so. A notable 29% don’t know—perhaps because respondents have not found themselves in such a situation before.
Further, how much interest 16-to-25-year-olds in England take in politics not only influences how comfortable they are debating political issues but also impacts their view of how responsive the Government and political parties in the UK are to young people. Overall, a significant 59% of 16-to-25-year-olds polled think the UK Government does not listen to and address the concerns of young people, compared to 29% who think it does.
The more interest 16-to-25-year-olds take in politics, the higher the proportion thinking the Government is responsive to young people. Among those who take a ‘significant interest’ in politics, for instance, 48% think the Government does listen to and address the concerns of young people—though even among this group, the view that the Government does not do so remains majoritarian, at 51%.
Among those who take no active interest in politics ‘at all,’ by contrast, only 15% think the Government listens to and addresses the concerns of young people. That 59% of this group does not think the Government does so could be both a cause and a consequence of low levels of political interest among this demographic.
We observe a similar trend when it comes to how responsive young people think particular political parties are to them. Overall, pluralities think the Conservatives (28%), the Liberal Democrats (29%), and the Green Party (29%) listen to and address the concerns of young people only ‘a small amount.’ Labour fares somewhat better, with a plurality of 33% thinking the Labour Party listens to and addresses the concerns of young people ‘a moderate amount.’ When it comes to Reform UK, a plurality (32%) doesn’t know to what extent the party addresses the concerns of young people.
Notably, the Conservative Party sees the highest proportions of respondents saying it takes into consideration young people’s concerns both ‘a significant amount’ and ‘not at all,’ suggesting a particular split in opinions on the Conservatives among this demographic. Specifically, 15% think the Conservative Party listens to and addresses the concerns of young people ‘a significant amount,’ compared to 14% who say the same of Labour, 11% of the Greens, 10% of Reform UK, and 8% of the Liberal Democrats. At the same time, a notable 25% think the Conservative Party does not address the concerns of young people ‘at all,’ a view that 18% share of the Liberal Democrats, 17% of Reform UK, 15% of the Greens, and 13% of Labour.
As with the Government overall, 16-to-25-year-olds who take a ‘significant interest’ in politics are more likely to say each respective party listens to and addresses the concerns of young people ‘a significant amount’ than those who take ‘some’ or ‘no interest at all’ in politics.
To win the support of young (future) voters, the challenge for both the Government and political parties in general is thus to convince young people, especially those who do not currently take a significant active interest in politics, that they take their concerns seriously and genuinely seek to address them through their policies.