At the last general election in 2010, just 44 per cent of the electorate aged 18-24 voted, compared to 76 per cent of those aged 65 and over, and think-tank IPPR’s report shows the gap has grown from 18 percentage points in 1970 to 32 points five years ago.
New polling by YouGov in the report also shows that only one in four voters in the lowest social-economic group believes democracy addresses their interests well, half as many as those in the highest social-economic group, and that the gap between turnout rates among richer and poorer people is growing.
In 1987, there was only a four-point gap in the turnout rate between those earning the most and the least but by 2010 this had grown to 23 percentage points.
Mat Lawrence, IPPR research fellow, said: “Long-run decline in voter turnout in the UK is being driven by the relative collapse in participation among the young and the less well-off, not by a uniform decline in turnout among all groups. A distinctive non-voting population – generally younger and poorer – heightens political inequality by giving some groups far greater influence at the ballot box.
“Representative democracy clearly needs a reboot. The old fear that democracy would lead to the tyranny of the majority, has increasingly been replaced by a fear of the tyranny of the minority; we have gone from John Stuart Mill to Thomas Piketty, from a fear of the masses to the problem of the one per cent as the chief threat to democratic equality.”
Radical reform is needed, he said, as there is a risk of “sleepwalking into a more divided democracy”. Compulsory voting for first time voters could help make voting a lifetime habit, he added.