Britain's hung Parliament has been called a political earthquake but if the seismic shifts are examined more closely it's a youthquake that has altered the Westminster landscape.

According to a New Musical Express-led exit poll from last week's election, turnout among those under 35 rose by 12 points to 56 per cent compared with the last UK election in 2015.

The poll found that 36 per cent were first time voters and that half of the 18 to 24 year-olds went to the polls with a friend or family member suggesting that such innovative but direct online appeals on social media by identities like activist singer-songwriter Billy Bragg, urging young people to embrace the generational divide and take their grandparent with them to the polling booth, hit home.

Other innovations such as the development of a Tinder bot app that matched a young prospective voter's dating profile with others, while encouraging wider youth engagement, also left a digital footprint.


Further factors like the carrot of free university tuition were clearly at work too, but evidence is emerging that young would-be voters were engaged for the first time in a long time to have their say on election day.

It's become a bit of a stereotype to say that young people are apathetic and disengaged from the democratic process.

The recent British election result shows that they will engage when there is something or someone that gets them engaged.

Nonetheless the fact remains that those who regularly turn out to vote in national elections across advanced democracies are systematically unrepresentative of the eligible population.

They are significantly wealthier, older, more educated, and more likely to be white compared to eligible non-voters.

Young people, ethnic minorities, and the poor are significantly underrepresented in the electorate.

Only 47 per cent of people aged 18-29 voted in the 2014 New Zealand general election. Compare this to the other end of the age spectrum, where around 87 per cent of the over 65s voted.

While there is some evidence that voting comes with maturity, there is still reason to be concerned about the low number of youth voters.


If young people don't vote, governments fail to hear and appreciate their viewpoints.

The more governments ignore the needs of young people when developing public policy, the more young people think their vote isn't important. This is referred to as the "cycle of mutual neglect".

Raising voter turnout amongst least representative groups is therefore a recognised public policy issue for governments in most developed nations.

But most governments, ours included, have also been spectacularly unsuccessful in halting the decline.

In part this is because official electoral agencies have tended to be more focused on informing voters on when and how to vote, rather than helping them understand why voting is important.

Voting is a "behavioural anchor", meaning a good experience in their first exposure to voting increase the chances of someone valuing voting, and therefore voting again.

For voting to become a long-term habit, gaining awareness and developing an interest in politics and the importance of voting needs to take place before a first-time voter even decides to make their first vote.

High amongst the many reasons for youth non-voting are that they don't know enough about the differences between parties and candidates, and don't know how to decide between them.

Educating young voters about the importance of voting, informing them about the issues in elections and the differences between party positions, is an objectives of a Design + Democracy Project, a research unit in the College of Creative Arts at Massey University.

The project is developing On the Fence 2017, an online tool designed to increase youth voter turnout in New Zealand's general election on September 23.

On the Fence 2017 is built on the success of previous versions of a voter advice application created by the project, including VoteLocal. Using a gamified digital interface, a visual and verbal vernacular accessible to a youth audience and an ability to share the results on social media, VoteLocal guided people towards finding a best match for them in 2016's mayoral elections in Auckland, Wellington and Palmerston North.

Around 60 per cent of the users of VoteLocal were under 35 and 30.7 per cent said they had not voted in local elections before.

Just over 86 per cent said VoteLocal improved their understanding about what local councils do, and 41 per cent of users said VoteLocal motivated them to vote.

So keep your eyes peeled for the launch closer to the election of On the Fence 2017, the online game-like questionnaire that, like the growing sense of engagement in the UK, seeks to help young New Zealanders become serious players on the political scene here.

• Professor Claire Robinson is a political commentator and Pro Vice-Chancellor of the College of Creative Arts at Massey University.