To vote or not to vote

2019 electionA chat with two Marjon students made me write this. They were fired up about something political and so I was really surprised when it emerged that neither of them had voted. They said they weren’t sure who stood for what and with so much conflicting info around they didn’t know what to believe. They wanted to vote but didn’t because they had worried about getting it wrong.

Questioning who to vote for is a very good thing. Every election brings new considerations. Meanwhile the news and social media bombards us with political messages, some of them not true. Your vote is your voice. It can be hard to work out who to vote for, at least for some people it is, and this doesn’t necessarily change with experience, but if you don’t speak up you won’t have a say.

Why vote?

Politicians can’t fix everything. I happen to think most politicians are decent people who want to help those who need it most, but their task is basically to prioritise their time and effort, and our national budget. Even if their desire is to support those who need it the most, politicians can only do this if they have a job. And who gives them a job? Voters. Of course, that could mean most adults in this country. But in practice it doesn’t, it only means those who turn out and actually vote.

There is therefore a natural tendency for politicians – almost impossible to escape – to prioritise big promises and big spending to those who vote.

Both the 2010 and the 2015 general elections saw 18-24 year old turnout at around 52%, compared to 75% and 79% for those two elections for those over 65. Turnout for 18-24 year olds grew to 60% for the EU referendum in 2016, but even that growth was dwarfed by the 55-64 group, who voted at over 80%. By the 2017 general elections, the youth vote had reached 65% – a strong growth but still well off the 75% turnout rate for over 65s.

The trend for young people to vote much less than older people has been there for decades, but in 2005 the youth voter turn-out was down at 38%. So why does that matter? Well in some ways the different generations tend to have different priorities. Politicians are shaping policies that appeal to those who keep them in a job. And let’s be honest, they have little choice about this: they can’t make any change if they aren’t in power. So if you want policies that appeal to you, you need to be recognised as the ones who can keep them in a job. You need to vote.

But will your vote make a difference? Do you think it’ll just be pointless? In the 2017 election eight seats were won with a margin of less than 50 votes. So yes, a bunch of you and your mates could swing a vote. And if you campaign, and talk about this, and try to convince others to vote with you, it really could. This is particularly the case because this election is different to so many before; all bets are off. Don’t assume safe seats are always safe.

In Plymouth your vote really could make a difference, more so than in a lot of places. The Conservative and Labour parties have a proper tug-of-war over Plymouth. Plymouth Moor View, your constituency if you live on campus, changed from Labour to Conservative in 2015.  Plymouth Sutton & Devonport, your constituency if you live in Mutley, changed from Conservative to Labour in 2017. If your home isn’t in Plymouth then as a student you can opt to vote either here or there.

Who to vote for?

How to choose who to vote for? You’re students. You’re bright, you have research skills, so use them.

  1. First thing is to register to vote by the end of Tuesday 26 November, and if you have a term time and a home address, register at both. (Don’t vote at both, but you can choose where to vote on the day.) If you think you might miss voting on the day, register for a postal vote and get it done in advance. Register for a postal vote by 5pm on Tuesday 26.

2. Read the manifestos, here for Conservatives, for Labour, for LibDems, for Greens, and the “Contract” from the Brexit Party. Get a wide variety of views from others about the pledges, how much to believe, and the likely impact of them; for example if your future career will be in education or the NHS, talk to people who work in those areas to see what impact different manifesto pledges could have on your life.

3. Look at the voting record of the sitting MPs, at Here’s the link for Johnny Mercer in Plymouth Moor View, and here for Luke Pollard in Plymouth Sutton and Devonport. You can find others on the same site; just put in your postcode.

4. You may want to vote tactically – meaning you’d vote for someone you wouldn’t normally vote for in order to get a specific result – though this is no easy feat. You might want to consider whether to vote from your term time or home address, depending on where it might have a bigger impact. To check the 2017 and 2015 general election results for any constituency the BBC website is easy to use. Specific tactical voting websites are appearing; make sure to check if the one you use pushes any one specific issue, for example some will be about using your vote to stop Brexit while others will be about making Brexit happen. The website is useful for finding out about your candidates and official advice is available on the Electoral Commission website.

5. If you’re not sure how to vote, still vote. Pick the least worst option. Encourage others to. Go en masse to the polling station. Remember – policies will be prioritised for voters. Not for those who give the appearance of not caring.

  1. Use fact checking websites. We’re only half way through the campaigns and already accusations of fake news are flying and Facebook are being criticised for not fact-checking political ads (again). To find out the truth try Full Fact, BBC Reality Check and C4 FactCheck. It is a good idea to consider how what you read is funded and by whom.

You’re all students because you care: you care about your future; you care about improving things for future generations; you care about making a difference in the world. It is an inescapable truth that the shape of politics will shape your ability to make a difference, whatever career you go into. So please get December 12th in your diary, get out, and vote.

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