Teenagers aged 16-17 given the right to vote in Welsh council elections

Young people aged 16-17 will have the right to vote in local council elections. But how will it shape the future of Welsh politics?

Young people aged 16-17 have the right to vote in council elections in Wales. Credit: Youth for change.

It is almost 3:30 pm when a crowd of teenagers head towards the exit. Politics is far from a topic of discussion for these 14-17-year-old youths, who tend to prefer chats about TV shows and football. The voting age for council elections has been recently lowered to the age of 16 in Wales. But how will the political landscape change, in light of this? Will it have the same impact with young people than in 1918 with women?

One hundred years ago, some women were given the right to vote in the UK, promoting equality across the country and levelling the playing field between women and men. Several campaigns led to the system in current operation. Societies that encourage electoral reform understand this and have tirelessly campaigned to promote political engagement among the youth.

Jessica Blair, the director of the Electoral Reform Society Cymru says, “We ran a big campaign last year all across Wales speaking to a lot of people. The EU referendum and the general elections really show that it becomes vital for young people to have a say on their future.” Scotland decided to reduce the voting age a few years ago, and with 75% of 16 and 17-year-olds voting in the Scottish referendum, it has proved that young people wish to have a presence in politics.

According to Dr Stuart Fox, a quantitative research associate at WISERD (Wales Institute of Social & Economic Research, Data and Methods), the vast majority of people under the age of 25 have some interest in politics.

However, many young people say that they find politics unattractive. “It’s a fact that today’s generation is typically less interested, less knowledgeable and less likely to vote than their parents and their grandparents when they were the same age,” says Fox.

Dr. Stuart Fox did his phd on the political apathy and alienation of young people in Britain.

According to Craig Johnson, research officer of WISERD, the education system in the UK must be readjusted in order to provide political knowledge and the right tools to make a choice. “I think they are educated enough to vote or to exercise their opinion. But, there could certainly be improvements in political education in Wales and in the UK or citizen engagement,” says Johnson.

The government is now launching programmes across schools to help students demystify the concept of politics.

“One of the things that was very effective in Scotland when they got the vote for the Scottish referendum,” says Blair. “Was school kits aiming to inform people in school. We are going to do the same in Wales. It will explain how to register people to vote and help them in their political journey,” says Blair.

For Dr Fox, schools could go even further, by implementing compulsory education in political affairs.

However, schools are not solely responsible for political education. Politicians have to take steps to make the field more appealing to young voters. The consequences could be enormous and would change the approach of major political parties, according to Blair.

“What it can change is it can make sure that parties have much more appealing policies that improve the lives of young people,” says Blair.

We went to the streets of Cardiff, to find out more about what young people think of the reforms.

 Tess Moorhead, 15, Cardiff

I think we are educated enough to vote for our own future. My family gave me enough knowledge on politics but I think schools should do more to prepare us. If we were able to vote for Brexit, I think the result would have been different.

Chloe Mawby, 15, Cardiff

It would be for the best. There are mature 16-year-olds. There are adults up there who are so immature. I don’t know much about politics, I’ve never been told about it at school, but I would really like to learn much more about politics before voting. They need to push us in the right direction.

 Nerws, 14

I don’t think I have the right knowledge to vote. Politics is quite complex and I don’t want to make the wrong choice.

Caitlin, 15

I don’t know if we are going to have an impact on politics. Our involvement in politics would be better if they made us aware of what is happening.


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