What happens when the voting age is lowered to 16? Learning lessons from young people’s experiences of the Welsh 2021 Senedd election.
Lowering the voting age to 16 is discussed in several countries, often with the aim of fostering greater political participation among young people. How do young people experience voting at 16 and 17 though when they can do so? To answer this question, it is now possible to draw on new evidence from young people voting in Wales.
Our Dr Christine Huebner conducted in collaboration with Dr Katherine Smith, Dr Andrew Mycock, Dr Thomas Loughran, and our Dr Jan Eichhorn new research, which based on focus group discussions with 16- and 17- year-olds from across Wales before and after the election, on election diaries, which some young people also kept, and on interviews with stakeholders of youth voter engagement work in Wale like representatives of Welsh youth organisations and institutions, electoral registration officers, and youth workers.
Their findings highlight that young people in Wales faced a range of barriers to turning out to vote in the election. Timing proved to be key for young people and many initiatives supporting young people in turning out to vote struggled with the timing of the election that conflicted with many young people’s school assessments. Political parties largely failed to engage with the youngest voters in ways that are relevant to them and in time for young people to register to vote. To mobilise more young people in Wales to engage with and vote in future elections, young people need to see barriers to voting, such as a clash of elections and assessment periods, removed. Political parties must directly engage with young people, by publishing party policies in formats young people are likely to access and by promoting a more diverse and younger range of candidates standing for elections.
The research shows that delivering voting age reform and mobilising young people from across the country is a complex effort. Informal networks of youth organisations and youth democratic engagement activists working together proved helpful. And for a long-term investment in young people’s engagement with elections – in Wales or elsewhere where a lowering of the voting age is actively considered – 16- and 17-year-old first-time voters must be offered timely and systematic support along each stage of their voting journeys. This support has to include statutory political education in schools and colleges as well as extra-curricular opportunities for young people to form and gain confidence in their political opinions.
You can find an interactive infographic which allows policymakers, youth practitioners, and young people to experience the stages of young people’s voting journeys, to read the information on the barriers young people in Wales had to overcome, and to view recommendations on how young people can be supported in each stage of the voting journey, here.
And you find the research report to read or to download (free of charge) here.