Our readers give a surprise verdict on the EU

Dear David: We had more than 6,000 votes in our EU poll for under-18s.

As adults head to the polls in the UK, we have been asking the opinion of one group who will not get a vote: teenagers. The decision? By a clear majority, that we should leave the EU.

Yesterday, a team member at The Day left our cosy offices in East London and cycled three-and-a-half miles to the nerve centre of British politics: 10 Downing Street, home of the prime minister, David Cameron. They delivered an envelope.

Inside that envelope was a letter to the prime minister explaining the results of our month-long survey of the opinions of teenagers from the Scottish highlands right down to the tip of Cornwall. There were also copies of the four winning entries in our student opinion competition.

So what did we find?

An incredible 6,450 out of approximately 5m British teenagers voted in the opinion poll (roughly 0.1%). Surprisingly, 64% were in favour of leaving the EU, while 36% wanted to stay.

We are the first to admit we are not professional pollsters. The result may not be the most scientifically accurate. But it offers a stark contrast to the national polls predicting that when 18- to 24-year-olds vote, seven out of ten will vote to remain.

Why the difference? When we asked students to rank the issues that mattered most to them in the debate, ‘identity’ was by far the most important. It received around 24% of the vote, followed by migration, sovereignty and security. In last place, at just 15.6%, was economics: the issue that Cameron and his fellow Remain campaigners have pushed so heavily.

It seems that teenagers — who rarely worry about mortgages, exchange rates and the weekly shop — are less swayed by the financial risks of Brexit.

Maybe that is because, according to psychologists, teenage brains are ‘hard-wired’ to take risks. When it comes to the EU, perhaps that independent (some might say ‘rebellious’) spirit makes them more inclined to go it alone.

Then again, those who spent time thinking deeply about the issues in detail seemed to swing the other way. Around three-quarters of the entries to our writing competition were in favour of staying, citing everything from food safety standards to fear of a European war.

Generation game

Politicians rarely consider the concerns of teenagers — after all, they cannot vote. And for good reason, some say. They have not experienced enough of the world to really understand the issues at stake. Taking part in democracy is an important responsibility; the teenage view is interesting, but in the end grown-ups know best.

‘Not true!’ cries a chorus of outraged students. Teenagers are far more passionate and idealistic, and less likely to be persuaded by their own selfish interests. It is unfair that they have the most to lose from today’s vote, but the least power. Teenagers will be starting their lives in the future Britain chooses. They should get a say in what it looks like.

You Decide

  1. Do you agree with the other students your age?
  2. Should under-18s be allowed to vote in today’s referendum?

Activities

  1. Describe what your ideal Britain would look like four years from now in 2020. Begin with the effects of today’s EU referendum.
  2. Think about all the arguments you have heard during the referendum campaign. Then write a list of the pros and cons of leaving the EU. End with a single sentence which explains your final decision.

Some People Say...

“If teenagers cannot vote, there should be a maximum voting age too.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Would leaving the EU really change anything?
For better or worse, a vote to leave would have a huge impact on your life. In the short term, it would damage the economy, which may in turn affect things like jobs and prices in shops. The long-term effects are harder to predict, as they depend on what the government and the EU decide to do next.
Okay — but what would actually happen tomorrow morning?
David Cameron would probably make a statement ‘respecting’ Britain’s choice and explaining his next move — most likely to negotiate the terms of Brexit with the EU. The value of the stock markets and the pound would drop, but the Bank of England would try to mitigate the damage. Eventually, Cameron would trigger a treaty clause known as ‘Article 50’ which allows countries to leave the EU.

Word Watch

5m
In 2010 the Office of National Statistics said that there were 5.4m teenagers living in the UK, but predicted that this would drop to 4.9m by 2017.
National polls
A poll by Survey Monkey said on Tuesday that 71% of 18 to 24-year-olds were planning on voting to stay. This is a huge contrast to the 38% of over-65s who want to stay.
Identity
This is the question of whether someone ‘feels’ more British or European, regardless of their opinions on policy. In 2015, a survey by NatCen Social Research found that only 15% of British people felt ‘European’.
Financial risks
The majority of economic experts have warned that leaving the EU would cause economic difficulty. The head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, said the possible impacts ranged from ‘pretty bad to very, very bad’.
Teenage brains
One psychologist, Agnieszka Tymula, suggests that this ‘greater tolerance for uncertainty’ probably helps them ‘leave the nest’, and makes them more open to learning and new experiences. In other words, it is an important part of growing up.

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