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.