Should the voting age be reduced to 16?

There has been a steady expansion of voting rights since the late 19th Century . There is now an increasing demand for the franchise to be extended to the 16-17 age group.

The Votes at 16 Coalition, formed in 2003, won an early success by securing a study of the issue by the Electoral Commission.  The report came down on the side of no change. However, the campaign is supported by a number of individual Liberal Democrat, Labour and SNP MPs. Labour MP Julie Morgan sponsored a private member's bill in 2008, which ran out of parliamentary time. 

16 and 17 year olds were allowed to vote in the Scottish independence referendum in 2014, and the Scottish Parliament voted the following year to allow them to take part in its own elections. At UK level, by the time of the 2015 general election, all major parties except the Conservatives were in favour of extending the precedent. The Electoral Reform Society also supports votes at 16.

Arguments for

It is in line with the rights already held by 16 year olds.  16 year olds can marry, join the armed forces and consent to medical treatment.

It may be an answer to apathy in this age group. Young people are likely to be as aware of issues at 16 as they would be at 18 might feel that their views do not matter if they cannot vote.  (see democratic deficit 

 A wide range of political decisions affect people at 16 such as tax rates, job seekers’ allowance, university fees, bullying and education funding, access to training.  Politicians would be more likely to act on these if young people could vote.- it is noted that pensions are protected by the Triple Lock but student fees have increase dramatically- is this because people over 60 are the most likely age group to vote?

Molly Scott Cato, the Green Party’s candidate for Bristol West, believes: "At 16, you're eligible to pay taxes, you can leave home, you can get married, you can even join the armed forces.

"If you can do any of these things, you are entitled to vote - you are entitled to have a say in the direction of your country, you're entitled to have your say on the key issues affecting your life."

Alternatively, Professor David Runciman says an ageing electorate means young people are now massively outnumbered resulting in an inbuilt bias against governments who plan for the future.

Young people are passionate about many issues as Greta Thunberg shows and may well have better knowledge of issues than some older people as they are more likely to follow them on the internet and in lessons at school in  Citizenship.

It is important to increase turnout at elections. In the 1964 general election the youngest age group turned out to vote as strongly as other age groups but this has changed.  44% of 18 to 24 year olds voted in the 2010 general election compared with 76% of the over 65s. Voting at 16 when politics is still discussed at school/college may get them into the habit of voting.

Arguments against

People legally become adults at 18.  Many of the things that 16 year olds can do are still limited by law, for example, they can join the armed forces but not in frontline service and only with the permission of their parents.

At 16 people may not have the maturity and life experience to make political judgements.  They may still be under the influence of parents and teachers or college lecturers.  They may also be easily influenced by popular trends as Cleggmania, which developed after the leaders’ debates in the 2010 general election campaign ,showed, when support for Clegg soared through the social media because of the way that he spoke on camera in the first debate.

The majority of voters in opinion polls, including half of those in the 16-18 year old group, felt that the voting age should stay at 18.  Most other countries have chosen 18.

Some consider support for votes at 16 to be a cynical ploy to introduce a demographic into the electorate that would be more likely to vote in favour of opposition parties.

Professor James Tilley agrees such decisions are made for political gain rather than from principled conviction. He posits that many of the responsibilities afforded to 16-year-olds are not as significant as those advocating votes at 16 make out.

BBC Radio 4 Let's raise the voting Age 

He contests that rather than lowering the voting age it should be increased due to a slowing rate of maturity. He cites research by Prof Lucinda Platt which shows that only 29% of 16- to 19-year-olds are currently in full-time work, compared to around four-fifths in the late '60s.

Yet, the largest obstacle for votes at 16 could simply be public opinion. In 2013, a YouGov poll showed that 60% of British Adults opposed the idea and only 20% supported it.

YouGov research from 2018 shows that whilst the public are still opposed, there is growing support for extending the franchise, with the way in which the question is worded having a significant impact on the response. Thirty-four per cent of the public support 16- and 17-year-olds' right to vote, but only 24% backed reducing the voting age.

Possible Impact?

ONS research highlights that there are 88 out of 650 constituencies where the number of 16- and 17-year-olds outnumber the majority held by the sitting MP. Thirty-four are held by Conservative MPs who are the most vulnerable to losing their seats should the franchise be extended – based on the notion that young people are more likely to vote Labour.

If these seats changed hands Labour would become the largest party in Parliament.

It’s possible lowering the vote could have had an equally substantial effect on an EU referendum. In a survey conducted by the Student Room 82% of 16 and 17-year-olds opted for remain. Such a turnout would have closed the gap of 1.2 million between Remain and Leave.

However, these predictions rely on all 16- and 17-year-olds turning out at the polls. But young people currently record the lowest levels of turnout, with 18-to-19-year-olds the age group least likely to vote at the 2017 general election.

The only other major European country to lower the voting age to 16 is Austria, in 2007. Prof Sylvia Kritzinger says that the move hasn’t particularly changed Austria’s political landscape; however, it has resulted in more political education and therefore created habitual voters. Some 79% of Austrians aged 15 to 30 have voted in the last three years, the highest rate in Europe where the overall average is 64%.

 With the increase in youth engagement and in the wake of Brexit, young people are better informed than ever before. 

18-24 year old turnout is currently very low, this may encourage them to vote, by engaging them early; ¾ voted in Scottish referendum. 

If you are old enough to marry, join the army and have sex; you should be able to vote. 

Could help to balance out conservatism of the old- over 80% of 70+ voted Tory.

Many issues will affect 16-17 year olds more than other parts of the electorate.

16 year old have the vote in Scotland and Wales


16/17 year olds are too young to make mature rational decisions.

Many issues are too complex for young people to understand.

Very few pay tax, and most are still in education so don’t have a stake in society

The young are too radical as they have too little life experience 

 Turnout is usually very low among the young : 58% in 2017 for 18-24, and 47% in 2019!

Recent legislation has raised the age at which people can buy cigarettes, fire works or use sun beds.