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Public opinion, political partisanship and the Votes-at-16 debate in the United Kingdom

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<mark>Journal publication date</mark>31/05/2022
<mark>Journal</mark>The British Journal of Politics and International Relations
Issue number2
Number of pages27
Pages (from-to)297-323
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date2/07/21
<mark>Original language</mark>English


The debate in the United Kingdom over whether the voting age should be lowered to 16 has largely involved political elites demanding change. Public opinion, insofar as it has been tested at UK-wide level, has tended to oppose lowering the voting age for Westminster elections, but change has proceeded for non-Westminster elections in Scotland and Wales. Drawing upon extensive research undertaken as part of a 2-year Leverhulme Trust project on the voting age debate, this article tests public opinion via quantitative surveys on whether the voting age should be lowered for UK-wide elections not only among the existing electorate but also among 16- to 17-year-olds. It suggests three things: (1) there has been a shift among adults towards support for change, but not an outright majority in favour; (2) the insulation of public opinion from the debate is likely to diminish as only a change in attitudes appears capable of eliciting change at UK level; and (3) the divisions on the issue among the public map onto the importance of age as a variable in party choice, with younger Labour supporters most in favour of Votes-at-16 and older Conservatives most opposed. This political partisanship was absent when the United Kingdom became the first country in the world to lower the voting age from 21 to 18 half-a-century ago but is likely to dominate the Votes-at-16 debate for years to come.