The Brexit vote, like most elections, posed a paradox. Those who have to live the longest with the decision's ramifications are also the ones least likely to vote. There is almost always a mismatch between having stakes in an election and actually participating in it. YouGov, a British polling service, posted a widely shared chart showing that British voters ages 18 to 24 would, on average, "live with" the Brexit decision for 69 years, as opposed to 16 years for voters older than 65.
With a Brexit, those ramifications include diminished possibilities of studying in, working in and perhaps even traveling to the rest of Europe as the processes for doing so become more complicated and costly with Britain extracting itself from the European Union.
A full three-quarters of British youths (ages 18-24) voted to remain in the E.U. Almost two-thirds of the next-youngest category (25-34) did, as well. Given that a large proportion of British youths are concentrated in cities, where they study or have entry-level jobs, young people represented one major factor in cities being centers of the "remain" camp. Meanwhile, 60 percent of senior citizens voted to leave the E.U.
After the Brexit vote's results came in, and it became clear that not only had the "leave" camp won but that the decision would probably be irreversible, many young people took to social media to rage. Others found platforms in major newspapers, which solicited furious articles claiming betrayal by an older generation deemed isolationist, bitter and short-sighted. Examples of those posts and articles can be found here, here, here and here.
But here's the paradox: So few of these young people voted, relatively speaking.
Polling and survey data indicate that young people voted in far fewer numbers than even senior citizens and that areas with the highest youth populations also had the lowest turnout. Many online commenters have scoffed at the outpouring of youth anger, pointing out that in a democracy, those who turn out in larger numbers carry the day.
Low youth turnout in elections is a problem that plagues all of the world's democracies. In the United States, youth turnout was at its all-time low in the 2014 congressional elections, at 19.9 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds. In the United States and elsewhere, young voters tend to lean more to the left, politically speaking, and failure to mobilize them has been a persistent bane of progressive politics. From 1972, when 18-year-olds in the United States were bestowed the right to vote, until 2012, 18- to 29-year-olds exercised that right at rates 15 percent to 20 percent lower than those older than 30.