In Sep­tem­ber 2014 vot­ers in Scot­land were asked to make a choice about their con­sti­tu­tion­al future: whether they want Scot­land to stay part of the Unit­ed King­dom or become an inde­pen­dent coun­try. A dis­tinc­tive fea­ture of this ref­er­en­dum is the reduced vot­ing age to 16 years. 16- and 17-year old Scots are allowed to take part in polit­i­cal deci­sion mak­ing at the nation­al lev­el in Scot­land.

This move was not wel­comed across the whole spec­trum of pol­i­cy mak­ers and polit­i­cal com­men­ta­tors how­ev­er. A large num­ber of asser­tions has been pre­sent­ed argu­ing against a low­er vot­ing age. Most con­testers sug­gest­ed one of the fol­low­ing as rea­sons to not reduce the vot­ing age (or com­bi­na­tions there­of):

  • Young peo­ple are less inter­est­ed in pol­i­tics and will there­fore not know enough about what is going on
  • Young peo­ple will be influ­enced by and will vote exact­ly like their par­ents; there­fore, they do not real­ly add to the ref­er­en­dum debate and out­come as an addi­tion­al group
  • Young peo­ple will be prone to copy ideas they are giv­en in schools and there is a dan­ger of biased politi­ci­sa­tion in schools that will dis­cuss the issue.

While these asser­tions have been pop­u­lar in pub­lic debates there has been lit­tle evi­dence to back up any of them. Using data from the only com­pre­hen­sive and rep­re­sen­ta­tive sur­vey of young peo­ple below the age of 18 who will be of vot­ing age in Sep­tem­ber 2014 this brief­ing  out­lines what we find when engag­ing with these asser­tions empir­i­cal­ly.

In this brief­ing, we explore how young peo­ple form their polit­i­cal atti­tudes in the con­text of the Scot­tish inde­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum and who their per­cep­tions and ori­en­ta­tions are influ­enced by. While this study is set in the con­text of the inde­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum, the insights enhance our under­stand­ing of young people’s polit­i­cal atti­tude for­ma­tion more gen­er­al­ly.

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