Poll reveals stark ‘generation gap’ in Scottish elections

23rd May 2017
23 May 2017
youth engagement
ERS Scotland


Contact Tel: 

Statement from the Electoral Reform Society, for immediate release, 21st May 2017

ERS Scotland Director Willie Sullivan and youth spokespeople are available for further comment and interviews. Contact Willie Sullivan on 07940523842, or Lewis Carr (Young Scot) 01313132488/ 07495452392, Fergus Boden (NUS Scotland), 07876 831235, or Karen Keith (Scottish Youth Parliament), 0131 557 0452.

A new poll for the Electoral Reform Society Scotland has revealed a ‘dangerous generation gap’ in how people feel about voting ahead of the General Election.  

The poll by BMG Research finds that while young people are highly engaged in political discussion and are interested in positively engaging ideas to bring power closer to them, they feel fundamentally alienated from the political system.

It shows that 26% of 16-24 year olds feel they have the option to vote for someone who 'understands their life' compared to half of the over 65s.

Yet 50% of 16-24 year olds say they talk about how they can make their community a better place to live – the highest return across all age groups. It compares to only 33% of the over 65s discussing such matters in their friendship groups and families.

Asked if they discuss general politics with friends and family, 64% of 16-24 year olds said they did. Once again this was the highest level across any other age group, with 43% of the over 65's agreeing that they discussed politics with their friends and family.

The poll also finds that 16-24 year olds agree that their lives are impacted by who is in government, with 67% disagreeing with the notion that it doesn’t matter which party is in power in relation to their own life.

At the same time, the BMG research shows that young people react positively to ideas that they feel improve the political system. For example, 65% of 16 - 24 year olds agree that technology should be used to 'give more power to citizens'. But less than half - only 40% - of over 65s feel the same way.

Jonathon Shafi, spokesperson and Campaigns Organiser for Electoral Reform Society Scotland, said:

"This polling tells us that young people are far from apathetic. It is striking that they appear to discuss national politics and making improvements to their community or town more than their older counterparts. 

"But it is also telling that they feel that politicians don't understand their lives. We know that older people tend to vote more, but we also see that young people want to embrace technology to give citizens more power. 

"What's important about this is that young people appear to want to be able to connect their general political awareness and interest with power and decision making. 

"We have a generation who understand the impact of politics on their lives, but feel they need better tools to engage with it. A more deliberative approach to our democracy would aid this – involving citizens at every level in decision-making would go a long way to bringing people of all ages closer to politics.

“Alongside other reforms to improve our democracy, we have the chance to close this dangerous generation gap before it becomes unbridgeable.”

NUS Scotland President Vonnie Sandlan said:

“It’s clear from this poll that young people care deeply about political issues and want to make positive change in their communities, but it is hugely concerning that the majority do not feel that they can vote for politicians who represent them.

"Politicians have a clear role to play in encouraging students and young people to vote, as well as ensuring that political agendas are shaped and co-created by young people. The most effective way to encourage students and young people to exercise their democratic right to vote is by making it clear that their futures matter. 

"With so much uncertainty around Brexit and what the future will bring, students need to hear that politicians are actively considering the opportunities and employment prospects of those studying now – and that our diverse education communities, and the ability of students to easily work and study within the EU, will be protected.

“There are around half a million students in Scotland and their votes will make a real impact on the outcome of this election. We’re touring the country up until 22 May to get students and young people registered to vote and make sure their voices are heard. This election falls at the end of term as many students start to move home or elsewhere for summer. We’re encouraging all students to think about where they will be on 8 June and ensuring they know how to apply for a postal or proxy vote.”
Terri Smith, Chair of the Scottish Youth Parliament, said:
“The Scottish Youth Parliament (SYP) is the democratically elected voice of all of Scotland's young people. As Chair of SYP, I know only too well that the young people in my constituency, and across the country, are genuinely interested in the present and the future of this nation, so I am not surprised at the results of this research. It is, however, very worrying that some young people feel disillusioned with the political system. 

“It is of critical importance that young people make sure that their voices are heard, especially in the forthcoming general election. The deadline to register to vote is Monday, and I want to say to every single young person in the country: get registered, by Monday at the latest, and when the time comes, get voting! Only by voting will you be able to make sure that your voice is truly heard, and that we will have a chance to change this nation for the better.”

Louise MacDonald, Chief Executive of Young Scot, said:

“This poll demonstrates that Scotland’s young people are passionate about the difference they can make to their local communities and to tackling local and national issues. It's vital that young people are given access to information on how they can participate and are encouraged to register as soon as possible before the deadline on Monday.”

Registering to vote takes just five minutes online: 


Notes to Editors

BMG polling on behalf of ERS Scotland. Fieldwork dates: 5th - 11th May 2017. Sample: 1,035 Scottish resdients aged 16+

Campaigners fear low EU ref turnout thanks to ‘toxic cocktail’ of high interest but lack of information

21st April 2016
21 Apr 2016
BMG Research
EU referendum
Better Referendum


Contact Tel: 
  • For immediate release, 21st April 2016
  • Statement from the Electoral Reform Society
  • For more information, quotes or to arrange an interview, contact Josiah Mortimer, ERS Communications Officer, on 07717211630 or

The vast majority of the public are interested in the EU referendum – yet just 23% feel well informed, leading campaigners today to warn of the danger of a low turnout in June.

The polling by BMG Research [1] for the Electoral Reform Society [2] shows that over two-thirds - 68% - of the public say they are interested in the EU referendum (with 32% saying ‘very interested’ and 36% saying they’re ‘interested’).

Yet when asked how informed they feel, the BMG polling released today [3] found that just 7% report feeling ‘very well informed’, with 16% saying they feel ‘well informed’ – meaning under a quarter of people feel like they have a good level of understanding about the June 23rd vote. This is only slightly up on last month’s 16% overall [4].

The research also shows that lack of information could affect the numbers of people who turn out to vote. When asked ‘If you had more information about the main issues surrounding the EU referendum’ 23% said they would be much more likely to vote, while a further 16% said they would be ‘a little more likely to vote’ – showing around four in ten believe having more information would encourage them to turn out.

Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society [5], said:

“This polling shows that contrary to the popular narrative, the public aren’t bored by the EU debate – in fact, there are high levels of interest, with 7 in 10 saying they are following the conversation.

“Yet there is a real desire for balanced information from both sides – under a quarter of people say they have a good level of understanding about the referendum issues. The public feel left in the dark by an EU referendum debate that has so far focused largely on personality politics and internal party spats – more than the actual issues at stake.

“We are at risk of seeing a toxic cocktail of high levels of interest but a lack of balanced information in the debate. And that could lead to a low turnout for the referendum itself. The public need the facts, but all they are seeing so far is Westminster parlour games.

“The fact that a large proportion of the public say that if they had more information they’d be more likely to vote shows that the appetite is there to create a genuinely vibrant and well-informed EU debate.

“We will be launching our ‘Better Referendum’ resource next month, bringing together the arguments from both sides into one place – as well as allowing for extensive online debate, and the ability to organise public events through the website. We want to see the highest-quality debate possible for this crucial vote – the British public deserve no less.”


For more information, quotes or to arrange an interview, contact Josiah Mortimer, ERS Communications Officer, on 07717211630 or




[3] Polling by BMG Research of residents aged 18+ in United Kingdom. The sample size is 1518 respondents. Cross-tabs available on request.


[3] A photo of Katie Ghose is available for free use here: The ERS’ logo is available for free use here:

The ERS will be releasing more polling on the EU in the coming weeks and months, including on:

  • How well informed voters feel about the upcoming EU referendum
  • How voters have been contacted about the referendum
  • What sources of information have been most important in helping them make their decision
  • How positive/negative voters feel the main campaigns have been
  • Whether the public would be more likely to vote if they had more information

The ERS have five recommendations for the referendum, for:

  • The Remain and Leave campaigns to commit to taking part in televised debates on the EU referendum
  • The campaigns to make voter registration a key plank of their plans
  • The campaigns to support initiatives aimed at giving citizens a chance to debate the issues in more depth, for example by providing speakers for local debates
  • The campaigns to commit to a ‘Ceasefire Week’, where both sides only put out the positive cases for their arguments
  • Media organisations, relevant public bodies and non-governmental organisations to commit to providing balanced coverage of the debate, including clear and comprehensible facts on Britain’s relationship with the EU

Find out more at: