Today the British Election Study published its face-to-face data for the 2017 election. The BES has two main elements: one is a large online panel element, using the same respondents in multiple waves so that they can track change at an individual level. The other part is a smaller face-to-face element, using a genuine random sample to try and get the best sample possible. The face-to-face element is also cross-referenced with the marked electoral register (that is, the copy of the register in polling stations where people’s names are crossed off as they vote) so that they can verify after the election whether people genuinely did or did not vote.

This means the face-to-face data is by far the best data we have on actual turnout levels and on turnout levels among different demographic groups. When discussing turnout I’m often asked about the official figures for turnout among men and women, young and old, and have to explain that these figures do not exist. While there are official figures of the numbers of votes cast in each constituency and the number of people on the electoral register (a different figure, note, to the number of people who are actually eligible to vote, where there is an absence of official data), there are no actual figures for turnout among demographic sub-groups of the population. We know how many people voted, but not details of their age, gender, class or other demographics.

Up until now there has been a widespread narrative that in 2018 Labour managed to engage young people who do not normally vote and substantially increase youth turnout at the general election (referred to by the rather irriating neologism “youthquake”). This was never based on particularly strong evidence. The narrative had begun to take hold during the campaign itself because of the difference between polls (a simple explanation of the polls during the 2017 campaign was that companies showing a large Tory lead were doing so because they weighting down younger respondents based on their past unlikelihood to vote and companies showing smaller Tory leads were basing turnout more on self-reporting and, therefore, often showing higher youth turnout). A common and not unreasonable assumption before the general election was, therefore, that if youth turnout did increase those polls showing a smaller Tory lead would be right, if youth turnout stayed low the Tories would win comfortably. Another common discussion during the campaign were the enthusiastic crowds of young people that were attracted to Jeremy Corbyn’s events. People sensibly cautioned that what mattered was whether those crowds actually suggested normally uninterested young people would vote, or just represented the more politically engaged young people.

By election day, there was a narrative that if all those enthusiastic young people actually came out to vote Labour would do well, and if it was just a mirage the Tories would win. Therefore when the Conservatives did do less well than most people expected the most easily available explanation to reach for was that young people had indeed been enthused to go out and vote Labour. In the immediate aftermath of the election an implausible claim that youth turnout was 72% was widely reported, without any apparent source. Shortly after that polling evidence from various companies emerged that did support a higher level of youth turnout. Given that the problem with polling accuracy in 2015 was that poll samples had too many of the sort of people who vote, particularly among young people, this evidence was rather dicey. It could have been that youth turnout had risen… or it could have been that polls still contained too many of the sort of young people who vote. The final bit of evidence was that seats that contained a larger proportion of young people did see their turnout rise more at the election… though as Chris Prosser and the rest of the BES team ably explain in their paper, this is not necessarily the strong evidence you might think: seats with more young people tend to be urban and more diverse, so it’s equally possible that urban areas in general saw a larger increase in turnout.

In fact the BES data released today – using a random sample and checked against the electoral register – does not find evidence of any increase in turnout among under 25s, thought does find some evidence of an increase in turnout among those between 25 and 44. The boost in youth turnout that people have been using to explain the 2017 election may not actually exist at all (or if it does, it was among relatively young voters, rather than the youngest voters). That’s not to say that young voters were not still important in explaining the election result – age was still an important divide on how people voted, young people did still heavily vote for Labour so it is still fair to say Labour managed to enthuse young people more, it’s just that the level of turnout among under 25s does not appear to have risen; Labour just took a greater share of support among younger voters.

This does raise some other questions about the polls at the 2017 election. Until now the most obvious explanation for why some polls got the figures very wrong and others got them right is that, by basing turnout patterns on what happened in 2015 some polls missed out on a genuine surge in youth turnout, therefore understating Labour support, and that polls showing higher youth turnout were closer to the actual result. However, if youth turnout didn’t actually rise then this explanation seems far less convincing. My own view is that the way turnout models were done was probably still a major factor in the error, but it may be more a case of how they were done rather than the principle (besides, there were some approaches, like the YouGov MRP model, that used demographics in their turnout modelling and did well). More on that issue another time.

In the meantime, there’s a summary of the BES findings on youth turnout here and their full paper is here.

562 Responses to “Some thoughts on the BES turnout data and the absent “youthquake””

1 5 6 7 8 9 12
  1. “I’m not sure about the rights and wrongs of votes at 16, but if we are applying maturity criteria to voting rights the surely daily mail, express and sun readers should be disqualified from voting”


    On a polling site such as this, another crucial test should be whether someone understands margin of error. (You might get enhanced voting rights for regression to the mean, and the multivariate thing, stuff like that…)

  2. Voting at 16

    From the headnote of Gillick v West Norfolk and Wisbech Area Health Authority and another [1986] 1 AC 112
    In the House of Lords (as it then was)

    “Having regard to the reality that a child became increasingly independent as it grew older and that parental authority dwindled correspondingly, the law did not recognise any rule of absolute parental authority until a fixed age. Instead, parental rights were recognised by the law only as long as they were needed for the protection of the child and such rights yielded to the child’s right to make his own decisions when he reached a sufficient understanding and intelligence to be capable of making up his own mind.”

    sensible words of wisdom it seems to me, I tend to agree that those likely to vote at sixteen are those who will have reached sufficient maturity to exercise their choice.

  3. PETE B @ BZ

    I find it interesting that Remainers keep going on about a single slogan on the side of a bus, when the government sent out a lengthy booklet to voters which was full of suppositions and let’s say inaccuracies.

    I would agree that neither side were paragons of veracity during the referendum campaign, but the NHS £350m/week has recently been added to by BoJo. In the context of my response re the ICM poll to TREVOR WARNE at 2018-01-31 17:17 UTC [near bottom of p6], I suspect that the 58% of leavers who expect a positive impact on the UK economy will have at least noticed the assertion.

  4. According to

    “Children between 10 and 17 can be arrested and taken to court if they commit a crime.
    They are treated differently from adults and are:

    dealt with by youth courts
    given different sentences
    sent to special secure centres for young people, not adult prisons

    Young people aged 18
    Young people aged 18 are treated as an adult by the law.

    If they’re sent to prison, they’ll be sent to a place that holds 18 to 25-year-olds, not a full adult prison.”

    So if a 16 year old cannot be treated as an adult by the law , how can he/she be capable of making laws for adults ?

  5. Ooops. The comment I just referred to was near the bottom of P5

  6. @ BZ – Quibble adjustments as requested:

    “Time frame of the term fully left:”
    That could be Mar’19, might be Dec’20, might be a little longer or if we end up with BINO then might be never.
    The point here is that it is uncertainty causing the drag on investment and until we know the final outcome and HMG response to that outcome that uncertainty continues.
    “quantify the size of a small dip:”
    I’ve guesstimated this at around 0.5%pa but with a wide range of tolerance (e.g. 0-1% range). IMHO it is due mostly to lack of investment due to uncertainty (businesses hate uncertainty). Guessing the short-term consumer response is very difficult and in fairness to Project Fear 1.0 this was were they seriously got it wrong.

    I’m not trying to pin a specific number on “small” but if we look at 2016 and 2017 GDP then we’re talking about maybe 0.2%pa (2% potential versus 1.8% actual) but that is the sum of lots of +ve and -ve effects so impossible to pluck out a “Brexit specific” number. We didn’t have a recession but if we had then 2%pa dip would be “large” since that is an order of magnitude higher.

    I’m always very happy to expand on any quibbling but many folks get upset with long posts.

  7. @colin

    A 16 year old with a vote is not making laws, they simply have one vote to cast in deciding who should represent them.


    So you propose giving them the vote , but not allowing them to stand for election ?

  9. A balanced piece on immigration here:

    It’s complicated! The key GDP parts and per capita issues are included. Dependency ratio is important and main reason I’m on the fence about immigration numbers (although prefer UK has control over its immigration and UK parliament elected by UK voters can then adjust policy democratically – I’d like Scotland to have a regional option)

    I would point out one missing part in there analysis: Equality
    Immigration disproportionally benefits the rich and aging population (wage costs lower, more young workers paying tax) and hurts the poorer, lower skilled (competition for low paid jobs versus immigration from countries with wage levels 20% the UK level)
    The ne0liberal argument for immigration is “aggregate based” relying on trickle-down to offset the inequality issues.

    It seems the Brexit economic argument is going to revisit immigration effects so per capita and equality issues are back and it will be interesting to see how LAB Remain argue the merits of ne0liberalism and FoM.

  10. Colin

    I’m pretty sure that it used to be the case that there was a different age restriction for standing in elections

  11. Colin

    I’m pretty sure that it used to be the case that there was a different age restriction for standing in elections

  12. @Colin @ HIRETON

    “So you propose giving them the vote , but not allowing them to stand for election ?”

    Not that unusual in some democracies; in America you cannot be President if you are under the age of 35


    Quibble adjustments as requested

    Thanks, that does make it somewhat less opaque. I doubt it will mollify ICM’s 58% of leavers who expect a positive impact for the economy, though.

  14. Love this quote from Mr Juncker this morning :-

    ” It will be more difficult to keep together the 27 EU Member States during the second step of the negotiations because the economic industries , the multi-nationals , will try to convince their respective governments to say “yes” to this or that British proposal and in the end we’ll have several extras , several exceptions that will make Europe a mess”.

    Messing up his nice tidy world :-) :-) :-)

    ……..I give Mr Juncker the benefit of the doubt & assume he means “The European Union ” & not “Europe”.

    Europe will be a mess in time -as Africa closes the Mediterranean and smashes into it, turning NE as it squashes what was Europe into Eurasia. But the EU Commission won’t have any part in this .
    If there are any humans left they will be walking from Africa to Calaise, though the Tunnel may be a bit of a mess by then & a still offshore UK will be detached once again from that troubled Continent :-)

  15. Re: Voting Rights

    “No taxation without representation” is straightforward enough as a slogan in support of 16 year olds having the right to vote for the Westminster Parliament; but the logical extension of this is that anyone who does not have the right to vote (including prisoners) ought to have an automatic right to a tax refund on VAT etc. Or the right to refuse to pay the VAT/other sales tax element in the first place. After all, many people pay more in VAT and other sales taxes in an average month than they do income tax.
    Just a thought.

    Have a good day.

  16. Forgot to mention the bus.

    As we all know parliament sets policy! Hence I never believed the bus slogan. In terms of credibility in delivering policy you’d put more weight behind the policies pushed by the PM and CoE of the day or perhaps the leader of the opposition if you thought they’d be in power soon.

    However, promise or not, the inference was there and IMHO since Leave won they should honour spending more money domestically for political reasons but more importantly for the moral reason!

    It should be clear that a lot of Leavers (MPs and voters) want Hammond sacked (the window to replace May has probably passed). May was supposed to care about the JAMs but has lost her way and been seen to be useless as a PM, she’ll probably have to stay until 2020 but IMHO she’ll be gone well before the next GE.

    Probably worth mentioning that we haven’t actually left yet :)
    Future CoE can announce increased NHS spending in future budgets and if CON want to win the 2022 GE then they either need to remove Hammond or get him out of the Treasury dungeons and sniffing the political air of the country, especially marginal voters in marginal seats in Midlands and the North.

  17. Lovely quote for the statistically minded from George Osborne this morning talking about The Government and the prospect of remaining in the Customs union because of the number of MP’s that want to do so

    “The first rule of politics is you’ve got to learn to count,”


    Like to try & explain the logic of being equipped to vote for a lawmaker, but not being equipped to be one ?

  19. John,

    Prisoners lose some rights by dint of their criminality voting being one of them.

    Although, I do support their right to vote if they are due to be released within a specified time as part of the normalisation process (not sure how long is appropriate).

  20. GarJ

    I never believe the security forces reports of thwarted terror plots. I don’t trust the establishment at all.


    Fortunately for the rest of us, our Security Services don’t take any notice of your views, and keep on doing their incredible work.

  22. I am 57 years of age and disqualified from standing as a candidate (or indeed taking any part in party politics) by virtue of my office: the issue is far more complicated than simply you should be old enough to be a candidate in order to be old enough to vote.

  23. @colin

    I don’t think it is necessary to have one single age at which all things become permissible or possible. Voting in an election and being a legislator are not the same thing.

  24. Colin: @PRINCESS RACHEL – Fortunately for the rest of us, our Security Services don’t take any notice of your views, and keep on doing their incredible work.

    Be fair, PR was only criticising the grandstanding. Or are you saying that their grandstanding is incredible work? Because if you are, I’d rather they did the job they are paid for.

  25. @ WB – ““The first rule of politics is you’ve got to learn to count,”

    How about:
    17,410,742 – 16,141,241 = 1,269,501

    498 – 114 = 384
    (parliament vote to trigger A50 after Lancaster House speech stated we’d leave CU)

    Corbyn and May have also both stated we are leaving the CU.

    Osborne has 1 vote in a GE, 0 votes in parliament. Parliament will have a meaningful vote on the Brexit outcome in due course. Frustrating the process in an attempt to wreck it increases the chances of crashing out to WTO – something arch-Remain seem very keen to do!?


    I can just about grasp that appointing a lawmaker is not the “same thing ” as being a lawmaker .

    What I can’t grasp is the logic which states that a person is not suitably equipped to make laws which apply to me because they are not legally an adult ; but is so equipped to appoint a lawmaker to do so-including laws which may not apply to that person because they are not legally an adult.

  27. @Trevor Warne

    Sense of Humour failure? Your posts are usually a little less acerbic!

  28. An interesting account from Sam Coates of the Times about the missing in action UK Road Haulage and Truckers Bill and the insight it gives to Brexit:


    @”Or are you saying…………”

    I was saying what I wrote-in response to PR’s statement that she doesn’t trust them.


    I’m not sure about May, a sufficiently dismal performance in the locals might be enough to tip those letters above the magic 48, and once that happens I think she’ll have little option but to go.

    Certainly agree about Hammond though, he just seems to lack the imagination to deal with the present situation. People on pretty much every side of the political divide want to see increases in spending across a whole range of departments, not least the NHS and housing. Brexit has busted the Tories’ claim to be careful and risk-averse stewards of the economy, but Hammond seems intent on persisting with the most business as usual risk-averse approach to the finances you could possibly conceive of.

    The Tories need some bold (and immediate) domestic policies if they’re to turn the narrative around, but so long as May and Hammond are in charge that seems deeply unlikely and all we’ll get is tinkering around the edges and the occasional promise to do something by 2025. One or the other has to go.

  31. @colin

    They are not “appointing” anyone, they are voting in an election for a local representative at various tiers of government.


    ………a representative who will sit as a lawmaker in Parliament.

  33. Apparently Liam Fox has told the Conservatives they must end their obsession with Europe!

    I really don’t know what to say.

  34. Survation Full Scottish poll details are here

    On these figures Electoral Calculus gives this seat prediction for Westminster (or wherever the UK Parliament decides to sit!)

    SNP 44 (+9) : SCon 8 (-5) : SLab 3 (-4) : SLD 4 (nc)

    For Holyrood the Scotland Votes site predicts total (constituency : list)

    SNP 54 (53 : 1)
    SCon 29 (13 : 16)
    SLab 29 (3 : 26)
    SGP 9 (0 : 9)
    SLD 8 (4 : 4)

  35. Interesting discussion about age you can vote at and the fact if you can vote at 16 you should be allowed to stand for Parliament. I tend to agree with that point, they would still need to get sufficient support both to be selected and then win the vote in the election. If they have sufficient support why not allow them to stand.

    I suspect very few would want to stand fewer would then be selected and finally even fewer get elected, but if they did I would also suspect they were very good candidates.

  36. @Trevor Warne – I think I’m beginning to understand the general rationale that you are assuming in your projections now.

    You seem to be saying that current uncertainty now – eg in the period between the vote and actually leaving – is what is mainly driving the noticeable slow down, presumably due to postponement of investment decision and such like. Then, once we actually leave and people can see what the deal involves, it appears that you think investment will rebound and we will start to see gains, although I gather you accept that there has been an element of permanent loss of productive capacity in the meantime.

    If I am understanding you correctly. I think your analysis makes sense in many ways, although it does contain one very substantial assumption that I would suggest is highly debatable.

    The contention that it is only current uncertainty that is blocking development and that this will therefore disappear once the deal is agreed is surely ignoring the possibility that the leaving deal will be less good than the current market access. While we lose the uncertainty upon completion, we also lose something of the market access.

    I would accept that business does adapt to circumstance, once that circumstance becomes clear, but one of those adaptations is going to be relocation into the single market in some cases.There will obviously be other dynamics working the other way as well, but the idea that the drivers creating adverse impacts on the UK economy stop when we sign a well defined deal is not a viable basis for modelling, in my view. There will be continuing negative pressures beyond the transition period, the deal and the aftermath.

    Indeed, it is perfectly valid to argue that the current impact of uncertainty has been somewhat limited by the government’s promises of long term alignment and a lengthy transition period where nothing changes. Perhaps your models need to think less about current uncertainty and more about what happens when the negatives are crystallized within the final deal?

  37. @Garj – on the immigration issue and the transition, I can’t see that kind of middle ground fudge, to be honest. The EU has too much invested in the SM and the four freedoms, so if the UK insists on differential rights for migrants arriving after next March, then we won’t be able to maintain full SM access.

    It’s what the EU are prepared to offer in place of full SM access that’s probably going to define the shape of the transition deal, in my view. I think they would have to give some kind of temporary special status to the UK,but I’m certain it would fall short of full SM access. This is why I think this is going to be a problem. The transition period only works if the UK accepts fully the EU aquis throughout – if we don’t, then we are talking about a different kind of transition, where we are not able to fully participate in all the beneficial aspects of the EU.

    Part of me thinks the EU will simply say that if that’s what really matters to us that’s fine, you’re leaving in March, no transition. One way or another I think we’re heading for a crunch rather sooner than many people thought.

  38. Applying Colin’s logic might mean there is an electorate of one.

  39. SAM

    Don’t worry.

    My logic retains the status quo-16 year olds aren’t legally adults.

  40. @ ALEC

    You may well be right, though I would say that the rights of EU citizens post-Brexit (that is to say, after the transition) is explicitly not something covered by the four freedoms but a negotiated matter as part of the departure process.

    On a related matter, if they were really intent on continuing the status-quo for the entirety of the transition period then that would include letting us retain our involvement in the decision making process and the ability to block new laws. Fudge and cake everywhere, I think.

    Still, I’m inclined to think that the increasingly important thing about Brexit is not whether we go or not, or the precise detail of the arrangements, but the length of time it’s taking us to get there. Business likes certainty, it’s in everybody’s interests to agree something quickly and get on with it rather than haggle over the transition phase.

  41. Under 18s can have lots of responsibilities. They can

    Leave compulsory education to undertake work, an apprenticeship or training Pay taxes and national insurance
    Consent to sexual relationships
    Marry or enter a civil partnership Be held responsible for a crime
    Legally change their name by deed poll
    Drive a vehicle
    Join the armed forces
    Become the director of a company

    Why are they not equipped to vote because they are not legally an adult.?Seems a non sequitur?

  42. WB: Apparently Liam Fox has told the Conservatives they must end their obsession with Europe!

    I really don’t know what to say.

    Cameron said that too. Look where he is now.

  43. @ COLIN

    Interesting development if it comes to pass. Is a minister, doesn’t attend cabinet, male, and thought the PM should have promoted younger MPs. Any bets on who it might be?

  44. @COLIN

    “Like to try & explain the logic of being equipped to vote for a lawmaker, but not being equipped to be one?”


    The same logic that might enable you to appoint an accountant without being qualified to be an accountant, a lawyer without being qualified to be a lawyer, or a doctor, teacher, surveyor, and more besides.

  45. One for the conspiracy theorists?

    Does this mean that senior civil servants will be suspended (the usual process in such circumstances) while these matters are investigated. If so who will provide government advice on that suspended individual’s area of expertise?

  46. “Re: Voting Rights

    “No taxation without representation” is straightforward enough as a slogan in support of 16 year olds having the right to vote for the Westminster Parliament; but the logical extension of this is that anyone who does not have the right to vote (including prisoners) ought to have an automatic right to a tax refund on VAT etc.”
    @John B February 1st, 2018 at 10:13 am

    I’ve never understood why prisoners should not be allowed to vote. Prison is about punishment and rehabilitation. It may well be that most couldn’t be bothered even if they could vote, but as many on the outside can’t be bothered, it just seems silly to me.

    They are in prison because they have committed a crime; is the removal of voting rights part of the punishment? What on earth is the logic around it? If you can vote (if you want to) isn’t that part of the rehabilitation back into normal society.

    [I’m betting the real answer has something to do with those that read the Daily Mail — the throw-away-the-key lot.]

  47. SAM

    @”Leave compulsory education to undertake work, an apprenticeship or training”

    Minors can void “contracts” at will.

    The issue for me is this :-

    Under the Burkean Representative model, I vote for an MP or Councillor as an equal before the Law. I do so in the hope that he/she will excercise their judgement as my representative as I would have done-or at least in a way that I would not find objectionable.

    This is important to me because my representative will be -in respect of our ages-as subject to those laws & regulations as he/she has made me.

    If my representative may not be subject to the laws he/she enacts on my behalf , solely because of his/her being a minor at law then I cannot accept his/her role as my representative when he/she votes them into force.

    If , at some future time, A Corbyn Government moves away from the Burkean model to the Mandated Delegate model , then my objection falls away & it wouldn’t matter who -or what -was sitting as my MP.

    I would of course retain my right to object to such a Parliament , at the appropriate Ballot Box.

  48. GARJ

    Wouldn’t like to guess.

    Its a mess isn’t it ?

1 5 6 7 8 9 12