Research carried out for the Electoral Commission has concluded:
‘This newly published research supports the assertion that if people vote early in life, they keep voting in later life.’
This evidence that early voting leads to greater engagement later and a consequent increase in the overall quality of a democracy is the main basis for the Commission’s recommendation that Westminster and Cardiff should follow the Scottish example.
The researchers used data from the Scottish independence referendum as their starting point:
‘A survey commissioned by the Electoral Commission following the Scottish Independence Referendum (in which 16 and 17-year-olds were entitled to vote) found that an impressive 75% had taken part. The figure is doubly impressive given the fact this was the first time anyone within that group would have voted. The survey also rubbished the lazy assumption that because voter turnout has been low among 18 to 24-year-olds then it will be similarly low among 16 and 17-year-olds. The claimed turnout among the former group was just 54% by comparison. The fact that 16 and 17-year-olds voted in large numbers in the Scottish Independence referendum shows that given the chance, those under 18 will exercise their democratic right.’
However, they add the results of research carried out in 2015 to make the important point that this experience seems likely to have had a lasting impact:
‘New research now supplemented this finding by providing evidence that not only will they vote, but that it is highly likely they will continue to vote and be more politically engaged as a result. Through a survey carried out in February 2015 (after the Scottish Independence Referendum in 2014) it was found that 67% of 16 and 17-year-olds in Scotland indicated they would likely vote if allowed to do so in the General Election, compared to just 39% south of the border. Furthermore, while 57% of Scottish respondents said they had taken part in at least one form of non-electoral political engagement, only 40% of 16 and 17-year-olds from the rest of the UK reported the same.’
This comes as no surprise to me, based on admittedly anecdotal, but quite numerous, reports from young voters I met in Ayr, in the years after the Referendum.