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Imagine if the people who decided how today’s election was run (MPs, Lords, the UK Electoral Commissioners etc) were all aged 15-34… what changes would they make? In our most recent research we asked 1,000+ UK millennials which electoral reform measures they thought would encourage more young citizens to vote.
Just under half (45%) of UK millennials said they were in favour of lowering the voting age to 16, compared to 41% who were against the idea (14% said “don’t know”). Perhaps as a consequence of the lowering of the voting age for the Scotland independence referendum, the proportion of Scottish millennials who think the voting age should be lowered to 16 was significantly higher at 65%.
Those in favour of lowering the voting age often used “if you’re old enough to…” reasoning to explain their view:
“If they are old enough to join the army they should be able to vote”
“If you are old enough to work and pay tax you should be able to vote.”
Those against lowering the voting age questioned whether 16 and 17 year olds were mature enough to make this kind of decision:
“The voting age should most definitely stay at 18, if anything raise it to 21 (and I’m only 19!). Most 16-17 year olds are not mature enough to make reasoned, rational decisions about who to vote for.”
John Bercow, the speaker of the House of Commons, has said he wants to see online voting introduced by 2020. The overwhelming majority (90%) of UK millennials agree that having the ability to vote online would encourage more young people to vote. While they did express some concerns about the security risks involved, the consensus was that the potential upside (increased turnout) far outweighs the possibility of the system being hacked.
“With people working long hours and with various problems with transport links, this can make voting seem like a chore, even if it is only once every 4/5 years. With online voting apathy would no longer be an excuse. Voting would appeal more to younger people who use their phones to organise their lives. This would also reduce potential queues at the polling station…”
“Online voting – if this could be safely implemented – it would be 100% a yes from me. Resources spent sorting through the current voting system would be much less, results would be almost instantaneous, and it would encourage more people to vote.”
Polling Station Locations
When we explained to the UK millennials that in Norway and Sweden citizens can now vote on electronic machines in shopping centres, on trains, in airports etc, they were broadly in favour of this idea (81%). However, it was soon pointed out that if online voting was implemented then precinct/transport voting machine technology would soon become obsolete.
“Access to polling stations should be increased. I like the sound of being able to vote in as many places as possible, including shopping centres and in places of travel. It’s often difficult to get to your assigned polling station, especially for disabled people, so the closer the station the better and an increase in the number of places that can be voted at would help that.”
“The idea of being able to vote on planes and in supermarkets is quite clever but with the advance of technology this would lose significance as voters will just be able to vote online anyway.”
On a related note, Adam Coomer, a member of the Young Humanists, recently argued against having polling stations in churches citing studies suggesting that contextual priming can affect how people vote. Church polling stations could be particularly inappropriate or even off-putting for millennials. We know from our Audiomonitor UK (Feb 2015) data that only 26% of those aged 15-24 consider themselves to be Christian and just 2% regularly go to Church.
Extended Voting Period
Almost two thirds (64%) of young people in the UK were in favour of a longer time period for voting. Those in favour of being able to vote over a longer time period thought it would be a good idea because it would be easier for people who are away or busy around the time of the election to vote. In the qualitative discussions, the consensus was again broadly in favour of an extended voting period but it was thought that two months (as is the case in Norway) is too long. One of the more popular comments/suggestions was to allow one week to vote.
“Voting over a longer period – I don’t see how this can be anything but beneficial, it can encourage voting for those that are busy on the day of voting.”
“Allowing two months to cast votes is too long; people might procrastinate or put it off and eventually forget. The one-day voting system means that people who are on holiday or otherwise have difficulty accessing a polling station/postal vote during that day, no matter how long the voting hours are, might miss out. A compromise could be drawn with something like a voting week.”
The data on compulsory voting was clear: UK Millennials generally think it’s too extreme and only 38% were in favour.
“Forcing people to participate in a voting election would start to seem more like a dictatorship style system instead of the democratic method that it is trying to encourage and develop. It would be akin to using guns to force people to sign a peace treaty… not really the best image you want to project to other nations or to the populous.”
“Compulsory voting sounds a bit extreme and difficult to enforce. It might also lead to people making rash rather than informed decisions about who to vote for.”
Looking beyond the Millennial Dialogue project, there is evidence from the voter turnout numbers that voting systems have a big impact on youth voter turnout. At the 2010 election, 44% of Britons aged between 18 and 24 voted, compared with 76% of those aged 65 and over. The difference is less stark in other countries with more representative voting systems. For example, in the 2013 German mixed-member proportion election, 64% of first-time voters cast their ballots, compared with 75% for over-70s. Britain’s first-past-the-post system holds down the smaller insurgent parties – like the Green Party – which are popular among young voters but stand no chance of winning more than a handful of seats, making voting seem less effective.