‘Referendum effect’ boosts teen interest in politics

The referendum made a whole new generation politically engaged. Picture: Ian Rutherford
The referendum made a whole new generation politically engaged. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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YOUNG Scots are more engaged in politics as a result of last years Scottish independence referendum

Young people who were not previously interested in politics have developed a keen interest in politics and political issues as a result of the debate.

It will be very interesting to see what levels of political engagement and activity are like in the lead-up to the 2016 Scottish Parliament election when 16 and 17 year olds will be eligible to vote.

Dr Peter McLaverty

Academics at Robert Gordon University (RGU) studied the impact of the 2014 Scottish independence referendum on levels of political engagement and participation among first-time voters.

The study, which was carried out by the Aberdeen Business School researchers, surveyed first-time voters and representatives of some of Scotland’s main political parties and campaign groups.

Although there was large increases in party membership among young people, some 16 and 17 year olds who were interviewed said their interest in politics had declined because they weren’t able to vote in the UK general election.

It was found young Twitter users tended to be reactive to political events rather than consistent. First-time voters who engaged with the social networking site for political purposes did so for one-off statements, with the tendency to retweet, rather make original contributions.

Campaign groups served as the predominant vehicle for engagement during the campaign but were subsequently replaced by political parties afterwards.

They also worked with colleagues in RGU’s School of Computing Science and Digital Media to undertake a mapping of post-referendum Twitter activity among first-time voters.

There were minimal efforts by political elites to appeal to first-time voters instead schools, family, friends and youth organisations were seen as being important sources of influence on political engagement.

Principal investigator and Reader in Public Policy at RGU, Dr Peter McLaverty, said: “This study has allowed us to investigate more fully the claims that the referendum led to a generation of first-time voters becoming engaged with politics, and that social media plays a key role in young people’s political engagement.

“We found clear evidence that the referendum led to widespread engagement among young people who previously had no interest in politics, and that this translated into increased political activity – including party membership – after the referendum. In some cases, this translated directly into sustained engagement or activism around the 2015 General Election.

“It will be very interesting to see what levels of political engagement and activity are like in the lead-up to the 2016 Scottish Parliament election when 16 and 17 year olds will be eligible to vote, as well as if and how politicians and campaign groups seek to engage with these first-time voters.”