Britain's Youth Now Have To Deal With A Divorce They Didn't Vote For

Young voters in Britain overwhelmingly wanted to stay in the EU.
Young protesters demonstrate outside Downing Street following the United Kingdom's vote to leave the European Union.
Young protesters demonstrate outside Downing Street following the United Kingdom's vote to leave the European Union.
Mary Turner/Getty Images

The United Kingdom's vote to leave the European Union on Thursday highlighted many of the deep rifts in the British electorate -- divisions that are becoming more and more visible as the disastrous fallout of Brexit rolls on. Regional, education and class-based differences affected Britons' support or opposition to the EU, but one of the most prominent gaps between "leave" and "remain" voters was generational.

Polling both before and after the referendum showed a sizable majority of young voters favored the United Kingdom staying in the EU, while elder Britons largely backed the "leave" campaign. Seventy-three percent of 18 to 24-year-olds wanted to remain, according to a survey of over 12,000 voters by pollster Lord Ashcroft, while over 60 percent of those over 65 voted to leave. Another poll conducted on the day of the referendum by YouGov found that 75 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds voted to remain in the EU.

Now, as the United Kingdom deals with economic and political turmoil post-referendum, many British youth are angry at older generations that helped the "leave" camp win. In social media posts, media interviews and public statements from groups like the National Union of Students, the U.K.'s young people worry they will grapple for generations with a decision they didn't want.

Small groups of young demonstrators gathered in front of Parliament the day after the vote, holding pro-EU signs, with some protesting that 16 and 17-year-olds should have been permitted to vote as well. Britain's parliament rejected a motion to lower the referendum voting age to 16 last December.

On Saturday, politicians in the opposition Labour Party voiced their concern over the great divide between young and old generations in the vote. Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said that the country's youth "must not be shortchanged" as a result of the Brexit.

Corbyn has been heavily criticized since the referendum, as infighting among Labour politicians and allegations that he sabotaged the "remain" campaign through inaction threaten his hold on party leadership.

Young voters now worry that their ability to freely study, live and work in EU countries is in jeopardy. The economic uncertainty following Brexit and potential for recession also mean that Britain's youth could enter a poor job market.

Despite the referendum's importance for young Britons, results show that areas of the U.K. with younger populations had significantly lower turnout than those with a higher average age. The young university towns of Cambridge and Oxford were exceptions, but analysis from the Financial Times showed that in general, turnout increased with age.

Youth turnout historically has been low in British elections -- something that had worried the "remain" camp in the lead-up to the referendum. A month before the vote, former Labour Party leader Ed Miliband tried to motivate the youth with dire warnings about the implications of an exit.

"Be in no doubt: if young people don't exercise their vote, this referendum will be lost and so will many of their futures," Miliband said at a rally in London.

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