At the general election, a year tomorrow, there will be 3.3 million young people (some of whom were not born when Tony Blair became prime minister) eligible to vote for the first time. In what one Labour strategist recently told me would be a "bloody close" contest, they have the potential to play a decisive role. But a new poll by British Future shows that 59 per cent aren't planning to vote at all. This compares to 40 per cent of all voters and 25 per cent of the over-65s (the most likely group to turn out).
Among the 41 per cent of 17-21-year-olds who are certain to take part, there is more grim news for the Lib Dems. Labour is on first place on 41 per cent, followed by the Tories on 25 per cent, Ukip on 12 per cent and the Greens on 9 per cent, with Nick Clegg's party trailing in fifth place on just 5 per cent. Nearly four years after the Lib Dems broke their pre-election promise not to vote in favour of increasing tuition fees, the damage endures. The news is all the more dispiriting for the party given their traditional strength among this demographic. At the 2010 general election, 30 per cent of 18-24-year-olds voted Lib Dem, compared to 31 per cent for Labour and 30 per cent for the Tories.
There is better news for Ed Miliband. Unlike among the electorate in general, he is rated as by far the best party leader. While 58 per cent say that David Cameron does not understand their concerns, only 46 per cent say the same of Miliband, giving him a net rating of -14, ahead of Cameron (-35), Clegg (-37) and Boris Johnson (-27). The Labour leader is also narrowly rated as the best prime minister with a score of 17 per cent, putting him ahead of Cameron (15 per cent), Johnson (15 per cent), Alan Sugar (12 per cent) , recent NS guest editor Russell Brand (12 per cent), Jeremy Clarkson (11 per cent), Nigel Farage (9 per cent) and Clegg, who is level with Jamie Oliver on 6 per cent.
With his promise of policies to aid "Generation Rent" (including a cap on rent increases, longer tenancies and a ban on letting agent fees), of a "radical offer" on tuition fees, and of a guaranteed job for all 18-24-year-olds out of work for more than a year, Miliband has made a conscious appeal to the young as the Tories have focused on the old (promising to maintain the triple-lock on the state pension and introducing new high-interest pensioner bonds). The challenge for Labour will be ensuring that they turn out. Among those who are likely but not certain to vote, Labour's lead rises from 16 points (41-25) to 22, showing the benefits of maximising participation. If Miliband is to win in 2015, a successful voter registration drive will be crucial.