Lowering the Voting Age to 16

Room: 
Room D, City Hall
Time Slot: 
Tuesday 27th March 13:30 - 15:00
Panel Chair: 
  • Professor Jacqueline Briggs (University of Lincoln)
Panel Members: 
  • Dr Andrew Mycock (University of Huddersfield)
  • Dr Stuart Fox (Cardiff University)
  • Dr Jan Eichhorn (University of Edinburgh)
  • Mr James Cathcart (Young Voices Heard)

Panel Chair: Professor Jacqui Briggs, University of Lincoln.

This panel comprises three papers that all focus upon the issue of lowering the voting age to 16.

Paper Title: Voting at 16? What next for Scotland? – Dr Jan Eichhorn, The University of Edinburgh.

This paper will review the evidence from the experience of lowering the voting age in Scotland. Using original data from the period leading up to and following the Scottish independence referendum it will provide evidence into why the earlier enfranchisement was largely evaluated as positive. It will pay particular attention also to the question of inequality and the distribution of political participation to assess the patterns of engagement by social class. While many positive aspects can be identified in particular through links to civic education in schools, a number of questions remain about the future potential for young people’s political engagement and the durability of the positive findings originally made.

Paper Title: Reviewing the Case for Votes at 16: An idea whose time still has not come

Author: Dr Stuart Fox (presenting) & Dr Sioned Pearce, Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research, Data and Methods, Cardiff University.

Abstract

This paper presents a review of the arguments and evidence in favour of lowering the voting age in the context of electoral events (such as the Scottish Independence Referendum, the EU Referendum and the 2017 general election), and considers the impact of recent developments in the debate (both societal and academic) on the case for the policy. The paper argues that the case in favour of a lower voting age remains unconvincing despite the increased academic attention it has received, and that the policy should not be pursued until the risk that it will adversely affect youth political engagement can be assuredly dismissed. While the recent academic studies into the policy have provided welcome new and detailed evidence, they suffer from a number of short-comings that undermine the claim that there is a beneficial causal effect from a lower voting age on the political engagement of young people. These include a failure to take account of the impact of government and community efforts to engage newly enfranchised voters with an election, the ‘novelty effect’ of 16/17 year olds being able to vote for the first time, and of the potential impact of the life cycle on habits of participation that may begin to form when voting at 16 or 17. Consequently, the paper concludes by outlining the research agenda required to develop the evidence base that would allow policy-makers the opportunity to make an informed decision regarding the likely impact of votes at 16 on youth participation and engagement.

Paper Title: Lowering the Voting Age and the ‘politics of enfranchisement’ in the United Kingdom (Dr Andy Mycock, University of Huddersfield, and Professor Jon Tonge, University of Liverpool)

Most political parties represented in the UK parliament now support the universal introduction of ’votes-at-16’, as do an increasing number of youth-focused and democratic reform-oriented non-governmental organisations. Thus far, no countervailing pressure group or coalition opposing a reduction in the voting age has emerged. However, the two parties at Westminster which oppose lowering the voting age, the Conservatives and the DUP, formed a parliamentary alliance after a ‘snap’ general election in June 2017. Moreover, Prime Minister, Theresa May, has dismissed the possibility of voting age reform for Westminster elections. Support or opposition from political parties for lowering the voting age appears to reflect their position on the left-right ideological spectrum, though devolution has fractured intra-party cohesion on this issue.

This paper explores the conceptual and empirical considerations underpinning the ‘politics of enfranchisement’ across the multi-national UK state. It will consider the drivers and perceived outcomes of voting age reform before considering the structure and merits of arguments presented by those supporting and opposed to lowering the voting age. It will then assess evidence exploring the implications of voting age reform, drawing on a wide-range of governmental and academic research. Finally it will explore arguments advanced by political parties in the UK for or against lowering the voting age from 18 to 16, evaluating the extent to which party divergence on the voting age issue indicates that political ideology or territorial context are influential factors.

Paper Title: Votes at 16? Are We Ready, Willing or Able? A Review of What's New and What's Needed in 2018 (James Cathcart, Young Voices Heard)

Are we about to enter a new age for democracy? Is that age to be16? Whilst many in this age group claim to be ready, willing, (and able in Scotland) to vote, there persists a genuine unease amongst many others of all ages to agree that they are, and it is evident that old arguments repeated by the usual suspects are not changing minds in the Votes at 16 debate.

Although 'democracy education' has been added persuasively to the mix it was not enough to make a difference in the latest attempt to introduce legislation (Representation of the People (Young People’s Enfranchisement and Education) Bill / a Private Members Bill introduced by Jim McMahon MP) where it was apparent that party politics, rather than reasoned arguments and evidence, resulted in the Bill being talked out to avoid a vote and likely Government defeat on 3/11/17.

Drawing on first-hand experience of servicing several youth-led Votes at 16 campaigns and working with MPs and Governments on both sides over 10 years, the author suggests that now is the time to open up the debate to new voices, and fresh input, and time to catch up with evidence and new research. There could be a political window of opportunity for broader reform (before the next General Election), of youth engagement in democracy to be sustained, within which votes at 16 is only one part, that rises above party-politics.

The paper explores fresh arguments on both sides that have not been full articulated as yet, in an attempt to move on from a campaign that has winners and losers, to a round table of dialogue and consensus. To do this it makes the case for a revival of the Youth Citizenship Commission (last deployed in 2009), this time as a ‘standing’ commission, to review the evidence, commission research to fill the gaps, and perhaps crucially, identify what needs to be different to changes minds, informing a proper debate in Parliament, the public and the media.

The paper also highlights the influence of a broader base of support by young people, and asks whether many of them now see the 'votes at 16' campaign as symbolic of their right to be heard in politics, and whether a rejection of it, is a rejection of their voice. A week after the Bill’s House of Commons debate, young representatives of the UK Youth Parliament sat in the same chamber to debate and vote again for Votes at 16 to be their national campaign in 2018, referring to opposing MPs arguments as 'stale', 'patronising' and 'immature'. This could lead to a unhelpful young/old divide (on top of Brexit) unless both sit around a table in dialogue.

Indeed the Deputy Speaker, had to call shouting MPs to order during that first debate in November declaring “this is NOT a football match.. we are having a DEBATE!”  It got an hour after lunch. Young people and democracy deserve more. This paper challenges those on both sides of the argument to take stock and raise their game. No one will be satisfied with another draw.