An unfortunate reality of UK politics at the moment is that young, first-time voters are often disillusioned by the thought of heading out to the polls. In the last seven general elections, those aged 18-34 have consistently been the least likely to put pencil to paper at their local polling stations.
Even in the 2017 general election, labelled as a ‘youthquake’ by the UK press, only 64% of voters aged 18-24 turned up at the ballot boxes, compared to 84% of those aged 70 and over. Considering that this still managed to be the highest youth turnout at a general election in twenty-five years, the scale of the problem is evident.
However, it is time for young voters to realise that they do have the potential to make a difference – especially here in Wales.
A report published by the Intergenerational Foundation this week maps those marginal constituencies in England and Wales where first-time voters could be the deciding factor in December’s general election.
Near the top of the report are four Welsh seats where the contest will be tightest – the constituencies of Arfon, Ceredigion, Preseli Pembrokeshire and Vale of Glamorgan.
The reason first-time voters could play such a decisive role in these areas is that the number of individuals who have turned eighteen since the previous general election is higher than the majority held by those constituencies’ incumbent MPs.
That means, for example, that if enough of these new voters come out with the intention of bringing change, then they have a real chance of doing so. Or if, conversely, they were to support incumbent MPs, they could be the key to ensuring holds in tightly fought marginal seats.
Arfon, Ceredigion, Preseli Pembrokeshire and Vale of Glamorgan are areas which, in either case, will likely see a close result. At the moment, they are some of the key Welsh battlegrounds going into the election. In Arfon and Ceredigion, Plaid Cymru are trying to hold off Labour and the Lib Dems, whilst in Preseli Pembrokeshire and Vale of Glamorgan the Conservatives are looking to defend their seats against Labour.
Even without an influx of new voters, these are seats which could easily change hands come 12 December. So, add to this the oncoming wave of potential new voters, and you have a situation that is almost impossible to call.
In Arfon, Ceredigion and Preseli Pembrokeshire, if even as few as 10% of these new voters came out on polling day, they would still outnumber the majorities currently held by MPs there.
For places like Preseli Pembrokeshire and Vale of Glamorgan, an upswing in youth turnout could make all the difference. On a UK-wide scale (there are no statistics for Wales alone) younger voters are far more likely to support Labour than they are the Conservatives.
In the 2017 general election, 66% of people in the lowest age category surveyed, 18-19, voted Labour, in comparison to only 19% for the Conservatives. So, imagine the impact such a surge of support for the left could do in current Conservative-held constituencies such as Preseli Pembrokeshire and Vale of Glamorgan.
Even more crucially, although the IF’s report only highlights those constituencies where young voters alone could be the deciding factor in the general election, it should also encourage young people that no matter their constituency, their vote does have the power to change things.
That’s why, for first-time voters, now is time to buck the trend of the past twenty-five years. I know this is something younger people have undoubtedly heard time and time again over the last few weeks, but coming out and using your vote really could determine the fate of this election.
Young voters have the chance to shape the political map of Wales at a crucial moment for our country, at a time when it is impossible to say exactly what the future will look like. With the looming presence of Brexit, the threat of climate change, and the ever-increasing conversation surrounding Welsh independence, now more than ever, young people must realise they do have a voice, and it can make a difference.