A poll conducted this week by Redfield & Wilton Strategies has found that a plurality of the UK public supports the recent decision by the Welsh Assembly to expand voting eligibility in Welsh Elections to 16- and 17-year-olds. According to our latest poll, 41% of respondents approve of the decision by the Welsh Assembly, with 35% of respondents expressing disapproval and 20% neither approving nor disapproving.
Younger respondents were far more likely to support the decision to grant 16- and 17-year-olds the right to vote in Welsh elections, with 64% of respondents aged 18-to-24 approving of this decision, compared to just 24% of those aged 65 and older.
Likewise, Labour voters were far more supportive of votes at sixteen in Wales than Conservative voters (62% and 26% support the decision, respectively). Those who voted Liberal Democrat in 2019 fell somewhere in the middle, with 49% supporting the Welsh Assembly’s decision. This variation is perhaps expected considering the age groups that form the voting base of each party and given that the Labour Party has previously campaigned on lowering the voting age. It nevertheless suggests that an initiative on voting rights for this age age in the entire UK is currently unlikely to succeed in the UK Parliament given the large majority that the Conservatives have in the House of Commons.
According to some researchers, votes at sixteen is likely to reduce the percentage of overall turnout in elections given that 16- and 17-year-olds are less likely to vote than older groups. Nevertheless, even if this change reduces overall turnout as a percentage of a somewhat larger electorate, it would still lead to an increase in the total number of votes. Indeed, researchers have argued that the evidence from Scotland (where votes at sixteen was first introduced during the 2014 Scottish independence referendum) indicates that 16- and 17-year-olds voted in larger numbers than 18-to-25-year olds. Whether this pattern will be sustained in Scotland or whether it was a by-product of the novelty of votes at sixteen being introduced or the unique circumstances of the independence referendum remains to be seen.
It may be that some of the 41% of respondents who approve of this change in voting rights for 16- and 17-year-olds in Wales specifically support it as an additional test case for the idea but are waiting to see how this change bears out before supporting it at a national level. If this expansion of voting rights is shown to be successful in Wales and Scotland, then public support for a broader UK-wide change could become a likelier possibility –– particularly for those respondents who said, ‘neither agree nor disagree’ or ‘don’t know.’ At the same time, however, Conservative supporters may become even more resistant to the idea if it turns out that it primarily benefits Labour and the SNP in these areas. For now, therefore, this development remains a largely local development.