When reformers argue in favour of extending the vote to 16 and 17-year-olds, they often do so by stating what other things those within that bracket are already doing (paying taxes, driving etc.)
For many people these arguments will ring true – but for those who disagree with the existing rights of young people, they are unlikely to be hugely persuasive.
More universally accepted are figures. And on this issue, there has been a telling figure in the public domain for some time.
A survey commissioned by the Electoral Commission following the Scottish Independence Referendum (in which 16 and 17-year-olds were entitled to vote) found that an impressive 75% had taken part.
The figure is doubly impressive given the fact this was the first time anyone within that group would have voted.
The survey also rubbished the lazy assumption that because voter turnout has been low among 18 to 24-year-olds then it will be similarly low among 16 and 17-year-olds. The claimed turnout among the former group was just 54% by comparison.
The fact that 16 and 17-year-olds voted in large numbers in the Scottish Independence referendum shows that given the chance, those under 18 will exercise their democratic right.
New research has now supplemented this finding by providing evidence that not only will they vote, but that it is highly likely they will continue to vote and be more politically engaged as a result.
Through a survey carried out in February 2015 (after the Scottish Independence Referendum in 2014) it was found that 67% of 16 and 17-year-olds in Scotland indicated they would likely vote if allowed to do so in the General Election, compared to just 39% south of the border.
Furthermore, while 57% of Scottish respondents said they had taken part in at least one form of non-electoral political engagement, only 40% of 16 and 17-year-olds from the rest of the UK reported the same.
The report’s author, Jan Eichhorn, goes on to assess the impact of ‘socialising influences’ on the results, including whether respondents had discussed politics at home in the preceding months and their experiences at school.
He concludes that: “the results seem to suggest a degree of optimism that indeed early enfranchisement—in a good relationship with other factors, such as civic education and parental socialisation—can play a positive role on the political participation of young people.”
This newly published research supports the assertion that if people vote early in life, they keep voting in later life.
Politicians in Westminster and Cardiff should now follow the lead of their colleagues in Holyrood and put their trust in the leaders of tomorrow.