How Nigel Farage won scores of Gen Z fans through TikTok

Nigel Farage has his fingers in many pies in the lead up to the election – but you probably didn’t consider TikTok to be one of them (Picture: Getty Images)

Over the years, Nigel Farage has made a name for himself as one of the most polarising politicians in the UK. But he’s also steadily garnered a loyal following across the country – that now even encompasses a portion of Gen Z.

You’d be forgiven for forgetting which party Farage belongs to, seeing as he’s flitted from Camp Tory, to UKIP – twice – to Reform UK (previously known as the Brexit Party, which he launched back in April 2019). He also once revealed that he voted for the Green Party in the 1989 European Parliament Elections, just to confuse matters further.

But one thing’s for sure: no matter which party he aligns himself with, Farage is a populist and is never out of the public eye for too long.

And it’s thanks to his ability to work a crowd and tap into public discourse that he has managed to stay relevant and, more importantly, transition from a fringe politician to a household name.

Just last year, the now-leader of Reform UK went on I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here. Not only did he come third in the competition, he also received a whopping £1.5million pay check from ITV for it – which he later boasted was the ‘biggest I’ve ever had’ – and the party, of which he was an honorary president of at the time, received a boost with an almost 10% approval rating.

During his time in the jungle, Farage displayed a willingness to get stuck in, regularly taking on chores around the camp and opting to take on some of the Bushtucker Trials that weren’t open to public vote. But he himself revealed the real motivation behind this, when he stated that the reward was ’25 per cent’ of airtime.

The leader of Reform UK went on ITV’s I’m a Celeb last year. (Credits: ITV/REX/Shutterstock)

It was also around this time, hot off the heels of the 2023 Tory Party Conference in Manchester, that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak declared that Farage would be welcome to join the ‘broad church’ that is the Conservative Party.

Stanley Johnson, the father of former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, also said in an interview with GB News that the Tories ‘cannot afford to have a man of that talent not in our camp at the next election.’

Well, the Tories don’t have him. And, according to the latest YouGov election poll, three in ten (29%) Conservative voters say they will instead vote for Reform UK this year.

And while it is perhaps no surprise that Tories are leaning towards Farage’s party and older generations are much more likely to vote Reform, there has been a notable – and potentially overlooked – surge of interest among young people, many of whom will be voting for the first ever time this week.

So, what’s behind this momentum? Well, in part, it’s thanks to social media.

Young people aged between 4-18 spend almost two hours a day on TikTok (Picture: Getty Images)

According to a 2023 Ofcom report, TikTok was the fastest-growing source for news for the second year running, with one in ten people aged over 16 saying they used the short-form video platform for that purpose.

It is also estimated that 76% of UK users are aged between 15 and 24 and that those aged between 4 and 18 spend almost two hours a day on the app.

Now, the likes of Facebook and Twitter still reign supreme in this space, with 30% and 17% of adults flocking to these sites for their updates – but there’s a notable decline from previous years and most users on these platforms are older.

What do Gen Z voters care about?

According to a YouGov tracker, the issues that young people care about have changed over time.

While the economy has consistently been the top concern for those aged 18-24 over the past month, for example, there has been a 6% increase since April 2024.

Health is also a pertinent issue, with 42% of young people saying it was a key issue for them in June.

In third is the environment, with 26% of young people saying this is a top concern.

Seemingly predicting how much TikTok would explode, Farage joined in March 2022, at a time when many of rivals were nowhere to be found on the app. He has since amassed a following of almost 820,000 and has received over 14.5million likes on his videos. The Reform UK page, meanwhile, has a total of 209,500 followers and 1.9 million likes.

To put that into perspective, the Labour Party page currently has 25,700 followers and 340,400 likes; the Lib Dems have 24,500 followers and 640,200 likes; and the Tories have 70,600 followers and 807,900 likes – a drop in the ocean in comparison.

It’s also important to note how many Gen Z voters will make up this year’s electorate. While in 2020 it was only 9%, they will account for roughly 15% in 2024.

And although it is still true that most (49%) of 18-24-year-olds are planning on voting Labour, as per a recent poll by Redfield and Wilton, 12% are backing Reform.

Gen Z will account for 15% of the electorate this year. (Photo by Vuk Valcic/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Dr Aurelien Mondon, senior politics lecturer at the University of Bath, however, believes that ‘it is absolutely essential to put electoral results into context, so as not to hype the far right.’

‘Whether in the EU or General Elections, Farage has never managed to get his party over 10% of the registered vote. Even when he won the 2014 EU elections, he did so with only 9.5% of the registered vote. Therefore, 9 out of 10 voters did not vote for him,’ she explains.

‘We should also consider that this was in an incredibly fertile environment in which he received undue attention. This is something we are witnessing again this year, and it will be crucial to look beyond headline figures and account for the vast majority of people who do not share far right views.’

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Dr Mondon also notes that there has always been young people who vote for the far right, but that they remain the minority.

‘Again, we must take opinion polls carefully here,’ she says. ‘For example, the recent JLP poll for The Sun had an incredibly low sample.

‘Besides, it is crucial to remember that young people tend to turn up less (although that does not mean that they are not politicised). Therefore, it is essential to think about politics with young people, in particular, beyond polls and electoral results, so as not to paint an inaccurate picture.’

As for the influence TikTok has had over Farage’s popularity, Dr Mondon believes that while other politicians would benefit from having more presence on the platform, legacy media still plays a key role in shaping the agenda.

‘It would be a mistake to blame the rise of the far right on other types of media,’ she adds.

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