Research behind the claims

There is little evidence to suggest that young people are less able or less motivated to participate effectively in politics. Critics of lowering the voting age to 16 need to look again at the arguments they use and realise there are important reasons to consider the potential positive impact of such a reform more closely.

Let’s look at the evidence:

The Scottish independence referendum showed when young people are given a say, they use it. 16 and 17-year-olds threw themselves wholeheartedly into the Scottish referendum, with 75% voting and 97% saying they would vote in future elections. Even those opposed to extending the franchise for the referendum now agree that they participated with enthusiasm and made valuable contributions to the debate. Read more: http://www.covi.org.uk/the-eu-vote-was-a-missed-opportunity-for-votes-at-16-across-the-uk-josiah-mortimer/

Levels of political interest amongst young people are equivalent to those of adults on average. They are not less political, but less attracted to traditional institutions such as political parties. However, they are willing to engage in representative politics when a clear issue is at stake as the strong reduction in the traditional gap between their voting likelihood and that of older adult groups in the referendum has demonstrated. This suggests that young people are not averse to taking part in classic forms of political engagement, but that parties may have to think how to better engage them through issue-based politics. Read more: http://www.youthforum.org/assets/2014/04/dpart-Eichhorn-16VotingAge-Briefing.pdf

Critics of giving citizens under 18 the right to vote argue that such teenagers lack the ability and motivation to participate effectively in elections. If this argument is true, lowering the voting age would have negative consequences for the quality of democracy. We test the argument using survey data from Austria, the only European country with a voting age of 16 in nation-wide elections. Read more: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4020373/

Tom Mauchline