August 22, 2017
Guest post by Sandra, news blogger for The Right Side of Truth.
When the people of Britain voted for Brexit in 2016, the world baited their breath. The monumental decision to leave the European Union was a shock to most, even those supporting the campaign to leave. Few expected the motion to pass, and the aftermath has seen uncertainty spread across the continent.
However, perhaps the most poignant fact within the Brexit debate is the narrow margin through which the referendum passed. Leave secured their victory by less than 4 percent the results revealed a society split down the middle. The aftershock brought even more uncertainty, as polls suggested that a subsequent vote would result in a remain majority.
While most fret over the future of the relationship between Europe and Britain, very few journalists examined the spread of the votes. A brief investigation suggests there’s an interesting story to tell.
Brexit by Demographic
For a significant amount of time, social class was the frontrunner when it came to predicting values and voting habits. Traditionally, lower-income households would opt for left of center whereas high-earners were notoriously conservative. However, Brexit marked a change in this pattern that has since been reflected all across Europe in subsequent elections.
As of 2016, age became the most prominent dividing factor in political leanings. During Brexit, the 18-24 demographic saw a staggering 75 percent vote to stay. The next age bracket – 25-49 – also resulted in a remain majority, although the difference was a mere 8 percent. On investigating the other end of the charts, the result is entirely contrasting; only 39 percent of 65+ opted to stay in the EU.
This trend was not isolated to the Brexit decision. Subsequent elections across the continent saw a youth landslide for certain candidates and parties – as discussed in more detail below.
When considering the reason for this, it’s clear that the differing experience of generations must instigate the contrasting opinions. So why exactly is it so much more important for young people that their country stays part of an international union? The answer may symbolize a complete change in our political future.
Decline in Patriotism
British patriotism is a touchy subject to discuss. As much of the country’s symbolism has been hijacked by far right groups such as the ELD and National Front, it’s very rare you’ll see the cross of St. George or Union Jack flying from windows in houses. While the 2012 Olympics galvanized the country and inspired a short-lived spike in patriotism, the younger generation seems less than keen to celebrate their heritage.
This observation is reiterated by a recent YouGov survey, which revealed that passionate patriotism was only evident in 15 percent of young people. When comparing this to the 49 percent of 65+ who identified themselves as ‘very patriotic,’ it’s clear that strong pride in the home state is taking a serious dive.
From this poll alone, the Brexit vote already begins to make more sense. The youth of Britain have no interest in living on an isolated island. This generation is setting their sights much further than their own borders – and the explanation for this is not hard to establish.
A Global Generation
The 18-24 years olds of today are living in a different world than that of their ancestors. They are afforded instant access to global events; they buy products from across the world and connect with people from different countries every day. In their lifetime, television, the internet, and globalization are all unquestioned concepts, as young people have been familiar with them all since birth.
A recent 2017 study by economic think tank Bruegel also expressed this idea. Exploring whether European citizens see globalization as an opportunity or hindrance for growth, the figures revealed a trend in the ideas of young people. Nearly 80 percent heartily support global consumerism.
It is on this platform of ideology that the youth of Britain voted so wholeheartedly against Brexit. In a world where physical borders are no longer a mark of restriction, what benefit is there in shutting ourselves off from the rest of the continent? But does this mass-move away from nationalism mark a continual change, or are we merely seeing an insignificant blip caused by current events? While a small percentage of young adults seem to share their predecessor’s dream of re-establishing a Britain of its former imperial glory, most hold an opposing view to their patriot elders.
The Internet Effect
The online revolution took less than three decades to become a global phenomenon. The World Wide Web was only invented in 1989, but many teenagers and young adults of today have never experienced life without it. Unsurprisingly, the effect it has had on mindset and values is significant.
On average, 16-24-year-olds are online for 27 hours per week – almost equivalent to a full-time job. Their online influences come from across the globe, with sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube acting as a social platform for international users. These platforms provide alternative news articles, grassroots campaigns and eye-witness accounts. They allow young people to form views outside that of the mainstream media narrative. Some studies even showed that social media influence tended to have a left-of-center slant, offering another explanation for the strong unified ideals of most of Europe’s youth.
Many online companies have already adapted to this global forum. Netflix, for example, offers a worldwide catalog with foreign language films and subtitled TV shows. Another testimony to the borderless internet is the increase in the use of Virtual Private Networks. More young people are investing in proxy services to wipe out any geo-restrictions to their content completely.
The statement here is clear: the youth have been born into a world where they are globally connected in an instant; universal technology has paved the way for universal political values. Most young people are more familiar with existing in a worldwide community than being isolated within their own borders.
The Age of Change
Brexit is not the only European vote that has signaled this stark divide in the views of young and old. Increasingly, young people in Europe are demanding politics that prioritize equality – for nationals and non-nationals. Just one year after the Brexit vote, the snap UK election saw a surge in support for socialist, Jeremy Corbyn. Despite claims of being a terrorist sympathizer, he received 60 percent of the youth vote.
A similar result occurred for Macron in France. Although Communist candidate, Jean-Luc Melenchon, seemed a youth favorite from early on, the young people of France banded together against the far-right nationalism of Marine Le Pen. Macron won with 56 percent of the 18-24 vote. Similarly, Austrian Eurosceptic Norbert Hofer lost against the green party’s Alexander Van Bellen. Even after the 2012 financial collapse in Greece, it was the support of young people that solidified the rise of SYRIZA against the conservative New Democracy Party.
In Spain, the divide is even more bitter; as youth unemployment rises to 45.3 percent, the 65-and-over demographic ensured a repeat victory for the progressively stagnant Partido Popular. While the youth vote was loud in their support of leftist-coalition, Unidos Podemos, Spain’s aging population tipped the scales against them.
It’s evident that politics in Europe is facing a turbulent time, but the voice of its young people is clear. The age divide in values, so perfectly exemplified by the Brexit vote, acts as a poignant prediction for the future. As the internet generation continues to age and grow, it’s undeniable that their influence will ignite real change across the continent. Whether this change will be sustainable is the question we need to consider next.
About the Author: Sandra is an alternative news blogger for The Right Side of Truth. Based in the US, her family is originally from England. She spends her time between the two continents, dedicated to finding and highlighting events often ignored by mainstream media. Brought up in a political household, she aims to ignite the same passion for truth in the next generation.Guest contributor