Voters trusted themselves to vote at 16 – let’s expand the franchise

Thea Ridley-Castle, Research and Policy Officer

Posted on the 18th August 2023

Do you think you should have been able to vote from 16? New research commissioned by The Body Shop and The British Youth Council has found that 64% of adults would have liked to have had the vote at 16.

What do we want? VOTES from 16!
When do we want it? WHEN WE WERE 16!

On top of that, nearly half (42%) think extending the franchise to 16 could result in real change as younger people’s voices would be heard from an earlier age. At the moment, those that turn 18 shortly after a General Election won’t get a chance to vote for national government until they are around 22 or 23.

Of course, plenty of voters did have their first democratic experience when they were 16 – because they lived in Scotland or Wales. In Scotland and Wales, 16-year-olds can vote in the Welsh and Scottish Parliament elections and for their local councillors. It is only by a postcode lottery that 16-year-olds in England and Northern Ireland remain disenfranchised.

Research has shown that when a younger person is engaged in the democratic process and voting, the greater their participation in later life. The way people come into contact with politics in their formative years is crucially important for the future of our democracy.

When they can vote, 16 and 17 year olds have higher rates of turnout than 18 to 24 year-olds – with 75% voting and 97% saying they would vote in future elections. They accessed more information from a wider variety of sources than any other age group. Extending the right to vote would allow a seamless transition from learning about voting to putting it into practice.

If you vote, you are more likely to vote in future. So as 18 year olds who don’t vote become 50 year olds who don’t vote, 16 and 17 year olds who do vote will continue to vote as they age.

Considering the not brilliant turnout rate of 67.3% at the last General Election in 2019; we should be doing more to engage with young potential voters and maintain engagement in the democratic process across their life.

Support for votes for 16 year olds is growing, the recent survey found a third of respondents believe the legal voting age should be expanded to 16. This was a similar level of support found in Scotland, where around a third of adults supported Votes-at-16 before its introduction. Now they have experienced it, 60 per cent back the idea.

Would you like to see the franchise extended?

Add your name: Votes from 16

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