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.