Page last updated at 14:05 GMT, Tuesday, 29 July 2008 15:05 UK

Testing the younger voters' mood

Houses of Parliament

By Peter Waters
BBC Blast news reporters scheme

Young people are likely to be a key force in the next general election, but what is it that influences them, and how do they view contemporary politics? I went to speak to a selection of 16 and 17-year-olds in Birmingham and Bristol.

I think that we need a change, so therefore I am considering the Conservative party
Luke, 16, student

The first thing to remember is that unlike most voters today's teenagers have no real memory of a Conservative government - many of them had barely started primary school when Tony Blair's wave of New Labour swept to power.

It might be the traditionally held view that students favour left-of-centre politics - but is that still true after knowing only Labour government?

At first glance it does appear that the more lefty of the opposition parties - the Liberal Democrats - has a more active youth wing than the Conservatives.

'Need a change'

However, it seems from the conversations I have had that plenty of teenagers think that the best way to change the government is to vote Conservative.

Bonnie, a student from Bristol admits that "if the Liberal Democrats came to power it would be fairly good, but it is never going to be practical", which leads her to conclude that she would probably "vote Conservative out of principle just to get Labour out".

My parents themselves are of one particular standing and I am of another, and there is this whole issue of whether I am being rebellious, but it is my own opinion.
Chris, 17, student

Meanwhile Luke, a 16-year-old student from Birmingham said he would consider voting Conservative because, as he put it: "I think we need a change."

It seems that Conservative Party leader David Cameron may pull off the same trick Tony Blair did in the run-up to winning the 1997 election - combining the appeal of change with a clear break from any bad memories of their party in power.

Of course, as with all voters, it is not possible to generalise - especially as so many of those I spoke to are much more concerned with A-Level prospects than a general election nearly two years off.

'Natural home'

However, I spoke to plenty who felt passionately about a particular party, and it seems to boil down to a few key issues.

Taxes and a general opposition to the Labour Party were high on the preferences of those wanting to see a Conservative government.

I'll have to see what each of the parties offer, if they offer something that is in my best interests...if I can live comfortably with it, then I will go for that.
Amar, 17, student

The Conservatives have made big efforts to woo younger voters through their use of the internet social networking sites such as Facebook and myspace.

The Iraq war, ID cards and tuition fees featured highly on the list of people who are considering voting Liberal Democrat.

The Liberal Democrats believe they "provide a natural political home for young people who often feel disenfranchised".

Fewer seemed willing to say that they were planning to vote Labour, who in the 1990s were by far the most popular party with younger voters.

'Wait and see'

But the election - and the manifestos setting out each parties' policies - is still nearly two years away.

Unlike what may have happened in the past it seems that few of those I spoke to were planning to vote for a party just because their parents told them to.

If the Liberal Democrats came to power it would be fairly good, but it is never going to be practical...therefore it would be a wasted vote
Bonnie, 17, student

There was certainly a wide range of views. The British National Party founded a new youth wing in January which it says was to respond to the needs of young people.

And the UK Independence Party's Peter Reeve says his party's youth wing offers opportunities which engage politically active young people.

There is plenty of time left before decision day and it was rare to find someone who had definitely made their mind up.

As one student, Amar, said, he would "see what each of the parties offer, if they offer something that is in my best interests... if I can live comfortably with it, then I will go for that".

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