The new frontier

The voting age in the UK should be lowered to sixteen. While there are arguments both for and against this move – arguments that are tested in this paper – the weight of evidence is now strongly on the side of reform. Sixteen and seventeen year-olds have the necessary capacity and responsibilities to exercise what John Stuart Mill called the ‘public trust’ of voting. This extension of the franchise would add one million voters to the electoral rolls, the same as the number of new voters created by the Reform Act of 1867. Such a reform would take political courage. But the moral imperative is clear.

Politicians of all stripes lament the lack of political engagement in the electorate in general, and among young people in particular. But the combination of a political system orientated towards older voters, and the fact that 16 and 17 year olds do not have the right to vote, could well be accelerating young people’s disillusionment with formal politics.

This Demos briefing considers the arguments on both sides of the debate on lowering the voting age, provides a survey of international evidence, and presents new evidence on the political attitudes of 16 – 25 year olds in the run up to the general election.