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How Britain’s Biggest Music Festival Could Tip the Brexit Vote

Music Fans Arrive For The Glastonbury FestivalMusic Fans Arrive For The Glastonbury Festival
Which set of stick-in-the-muds will prevail - the older, metaphorical ones, or the younger, literal ones?Matt Cardy Getty Images

Glastonbury Festival, the gigantic five-day music festival that takes place on Worthy Farm 135 miles southwest of London, is a sort of rite of summer for British teens and twenty-somethings. They make the pilgrimage to the bucolic setting every June for star-studded musical lineups—Adele and Coldplay are headlining this year—as those not lucky enough to score a ticket follow along to see just how muddy the 900-acre plot of English countryside gets.

But this year, the festival’s 200,000 or so visitors are also being seen as something else: a field full of vital votes.

That’s because Thursday—the day after Glastonbury opens its gates—is when Britain votes on whether or not to stay a member of the European Union. That means attendees will be away from the constituencies where they must vote on the day their nation makes what’s considered the most important decision in generations—one that’s shaping up to be so close that the cliché of “every vote counts” might actually be true. The Financial Timesmost recent “poll of polls” pegged the contest at a 44%-45% split in favor of the “Leave” campaign with 11% still undecided. Earlier this week betting house Betfair put the odds of a “Remain” vote at 78%.

But even with those high stakes, the campaigns of both sides acknowledge deploying no concerted effort to reach the hundreds of thousands of festival-goers.

When asked how it had appealed to voters attending the event, a spokesperson for the “Leave” campaign said, flatly: “nothing.” Likewise, a spokesperson for the campaign in favor of the “Remain” camp couldn’t point to an official effort to reach voters who will be at Glastonbury.

The festival organizers themselves, meanwhile, have been especially vocal about pushing a “get out the vote” message and, in recent days, have emerged as a surrogate for the “Remain” movement.

The festival traces its roots back to 1970 when dairy farmer Michael Eavis hosted a concert in his fields at Worthy Farm to pay off a bank overdraft. Over the years and under the direction of Eavis and his daughter Emily, it’s exploded into a type of pop-up city with dozens of music venues and hundreds of performances. The festival’s hippie culture has also fostered a spirit of activism and it donates part of its proceeds to groups like Oxfam, Greenpeace, and Water Aid, in an effort “to enhance the fabric of our society,” according to Eavis’s mission statement.

In that sense, Glastonbury’s overlap with the date of the EU referendum vote this year gave the festival a high-profile opportunity to further champion its message of social responsibility.

As soon as U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron announced the date of referendum in February, Glastonbury tweeted out that voting at the festival would not be an option.

Over the course of the next few months, the festival reiterated that message again and again on various media channels. In an op-ed in the Guardian in March, Emily Eavis called the referendum “without question, one of the most important votes we’ll ever have to cast” as she urged concert-goers to register and vote ahead of time. Festival organizers also emailed all confirmed ticketholders in April with information on early voting, and its Twitter feed has repeatedly instructed its 611,000 followers on how to cast postal or proxy ballots.

 

As the vote drew near, the festival’s campaign shifted from educational to political as Michael Eavis voiced his support for Britain remaining in the political bloc since a so-called Brexit would cause many of his fellow farmers to “go bust.”

“We’re one of the few really successful economies in the world at the moment–why change a winning streak?” he said.

The “Remain” camp mentioned Eavis’ support of staying in the EU when asked about its outreach to Glastonbury attendees, but it acknowledged that he is not an official spokesperson for the movement.

What—if any—effect Glastonbury’s effort has on the outcome of Thursday vote is impossible to tell, but government figures do indicate that largest age group that registered to vote ahead of the referendum was the 25 t0 34 crowd, followed by those aged 25 and under. (About two-thirds of all British festival attendees last year were 34 years old or younger according to a market report by the U.K. Festival Awards.)

 

 

That could be crucial to the “Remain” campaign since polls show that young voters are—by and large—more supportive of the EU than older voters, though low turnout among young voters is a concern for those advocating for Britain to stay.

The U.K.’s Electoral Commission told Fortune it does not have data on how many postal ballots have already been submitted—that’s tracked on a constituency-by-constituency basis and will factor into Thursday’s vote. The outcome is expected early Friday morning.

For now, as Glastonbury opens its gates, the festival has turned its focus to notifying its attendees of the massive traffic jams around its site due to—you guessed it—”wet weather and ground conditions.”