Majority of teens would vote in general election

TWO-THIRDS of 16 and 17-year-olds in Scotland are likely to have voted in the general election if they had been allowed, a new survey has found.
The new survey suggests two-thirds of Scots teenagers would have voted in the General Election. Picture: Malcolm McCurrachThe new survey suggests two-thirds of Scots teenagers would have voted in the General Election. Picture: Malcolm McCurrach
The new survey suggests two-thirds of Scots teenagers would have voted in the General Election. Picture: Malcolm McCurrach

Research by academics at Edinburgh University found that if voting in May’s election had been opened up to those aged 16 and 17, 67% of Scots this age were “very likely” to have had have taken part, compared to 39% in the rest of the UK.

Giving the vote to all those aged over 16, together with more discussion about political issues, could help get more young people involved with politics, it suggested.

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The paper, which is being presented at a conference in Edinburgh, comes after the Scottish Government allowed 16 and 17-year-olds to vote in last year’s independence referendum.

Ministers have also put forward legislation that will allow the age group to vote in future Scottish Parliament elections as well as council elections north of the border.

But under-18s are barred from taking part in UK elections and the UK Government is opposed to giving them a say in the upcoming in/out referendum on membership of the European Union.

The study, by Jan Eichhorn, of the university’s School of Social and Political Science, and his colleagues said cutting the voting age to 16 for the independence referendum had been “successful”.

The paper said: “Many of the negative consequences some had expected did not materialise and we can confidently assess that there have been many positive effects.

“Our research here shows that those effects were not just referendum-specific but have also been observable in the context of the 2015 general election.

“Young Scots are more likely to display positive civic attitudes and political behaviour than their peers in other parts of the UK.”

It added: “Early voter enfranchisement and enabling young people through schools can lead to a much more enhanced early political socialisation that could help to overcome the problem that currently young people tend to be less likely to engage with classic forms of politics.”

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Young people aged between 16 and 17 in Scotland were more likely to have taken part in a least one form of political participation than their counterparts in the rest of the UK, and were less likely to say that politics “is difficult to understand”.

While just over half (52%) of 16 and 17-year-olds in the rest of the UK believe they should be given the vote, support in Scotland is higher at 66%.

Researchers questioned more than 800 16 and 17-year-olds for the study, with half the group in Scotland and half living elsewhere in the UK.

Teenagers in Scotland were also better-informed than their counterparts in the rest of the UK, with 60% using three to six different sources of information to find out about the general election, compared to 43% south of the border.

Almost two-thirds (64%) of the teens in Scotland said current political issues had been discussed in a class at school in the last three months, compared with 54% in the rest of the UK.

The study found: “16-17 year olds who had discussed political issues in the classroom were more likely to vote, thought that who governed and how the UK was governed affected their lives more, were more likely to approve of 16-17 year olds voting, were more likely to have engaged in non-electoral forms of political participation and tended to consult a greater range of information source types.”

It added: “No other variable affected as many positive civic outcomes, emphasising the important and positive role of discussing politics in class.”

Dr Eichborn said: “Through good political education in schools and early voter enfranchisement, we get the next generation of young people to understand the relevance of politics better and engage in it more extensively.

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“But we need to ensure that all young people can discuss political issues in a qualified way in classroom settings. It can’t be left to chance, because of where they live, whether they are supported in their first engagement with politics.”