EU Referendum: Why Millennials Didn’t Swing It

The EU Referendum featured no shortage of TV events, but the real battle was fought by influencers on social media.

Europe and the world are reeling in the wake of Thursday’s decision. Beyond the argument about Brexit, there are lessons to be learned about youth engagement.

The Referendum campaign had no shortage of media setpieces, TV debates and newspaper front pages, but the most crucial battles were fought on a micro level on Facebook Walls and Twitter feeds between friends.

Voter turnout was at 72% of the population. The amount of discussion was unprecedented, demolishing the long-held assumptions that young people don’t care about politics.

Social media also beat out traditional forms when it came to quality of argument, with users creating their own content on the referendum rather than relying on campaign figureheads. These often took the form of long-form Facebook posts such as Nick Carter-Lando’s piece, which went viral with over 60,000 shares since 6th June.

But while young voters blasted social media with pro-Remain diatribes it wasn’t enough to swing the vote, and here’s why:

The politicians asking them to vote hadn’t done the legwork. With the exception of Jeremy Corbyn, they were quite content to ignore the younger demographic until it suited them.

When it came time to plead for their involvement, establishment figures like David Cameron and George Osborne were at a disadvantage. This disconnect was evident in the disastrous #VOTIN advertising campaign (which we’ve already covered), which patronised its target audience.

Vote Leave was also guilty of not appealing to younger voters, but they didn’t need to as their target audience skewed much older.

In the absence of strong leadership, Remain’s message was pushed by influencers millennials trust: comedians, actors and authors (ie. J K Rowling). When it came time for rational discussion, The Last Leg and Last Week Tonight were more in tune with this audience than Question Time. These personalities were more trusted because of their history of connecting with and producing content for the 16-25 demographic.

If there’s one thing that can be taken away from the result, it’s this: high-level politicians, like brands, can no longer rely on a top-down model of audience interaction.