University Access Diploma in Social Sciences
SHOULD THE UNITED KINGDOM VOTING AGE BE LOWERED FROM 18 TO 16 YEARS OLD?
Should the United Kingdom voting age be lowered from 18 to 16 years old?
REASON FOR CHOICE
As part of my Research module I have been assigned to investigate a topic that has already had extensive research completed. There is much debate concerning the voting age within the United Kingdom. Scotland ruled in favour of lowering the voting age to 16 for the 2014 referendum.
When a young person reaches the age of 16 they can leave school without their parents’ consent. At this age, they receive a national insurance card that permits them to enter paid employment and join the United Kingdom workforce. Upon receiving their national insurance identify they are legally bound, if they surpass the earning threshold set by the Government, to financially contribute to society i.e. pay taxes.
These ‘minors’ are allowed to fight for their country but are not allowed to participate in voting for the Government who decides whether they go to war. I want to investigate why the remainder of the United Kingdom have not followed the ruling made by Scotland.
There has been much research and debate on what age people should be allowed to vote. In 2014 Scottish 16 year olds were able to vote in the Scottish independence referendum vote and since then they have been able to partake in local and parliament elections. The Welsh Assembly are currently reviewing the legislation on voting rights for under 18’s in Wales.
The Political Quarterly published an article by O’Toole et al (2003) regarding lack of participation in politics among young people. The research took place in Birmingham in youth based locations such as secondary schools, further education and homeless centres for young people. Participants were aged between 16 and 25 and varied in gender, ethnicity, socio economic status and education.
Qualitative interviewing techniques were used to enable participants to describe their opinions and views in detail. Two sets of interviews were conducted. The first was 12 group interviews involving 65 respondents. Images were used at these interviews to engage the group and promote discussion. Their opinion for showing images was visualisation can create better interpretation and people can relate to images faster than direct questioning. The second interview involved 54 individual interviews that had stemmed from data received from the initial interview. The interview content was a personal discussion to collect in-depth background information to assess responses.
The findings suggest many of the young people interviewed were not being listened to by authorities or Government. These young people do not feel they have a voice, even with matters that directly affect them such as AS level exams, training programmes and amenities in their local communities. Many feel they are being dismissed from mainstream politics because of their age. Researchers concluded that perhaps Government need to listen more to young people.
In 2007 Austria lowered the national election voting age to 16. Wagner et al (2012) examined data from a survey that was carried out in the run up to the European parliament elections in 2009 by under 18’s in Austria.
Many critics argue that teenage citizens are not able or motivated to engage in politics therefore the choices they make at poll stations would not be of the same value. The findings from this study are that the critics are incorrect. There was no evidence to suggest that under 18’s are not willing to engage in politics. Data analysed suggested that turnout for this age group was low however, there was no evidence to suggest it was due to lack of ability or motivation.
The research concluded that there was no evidence to suggest that under 18’s impact negatively in democracy decisions and that their voting decisions are of lesser quality.
The argument to lowering the voting age could be taking out of our hands. According to Fieldhouse et al (2007) the numbers voting at general elections across Europe are in decline. Concern is that older voters participate more than the younger generation – is democracy a dying breed? It elevates the idea that if voting was embedded in youth culture at an early age it may increase numbers at polling stations.
YouGov are a UK based online market research company. They are an internet based firm that present data on people’s opinions on current affairs throughout the world. Yaxley et al (2018) for YouGov asked the public should the voting age be lowered throughout the United Kingdom however the question was asked in two different methods. See results as follows:
The public were asked about giving 16-17 year olds the right to vote:
• 34% support; 45% oppose; 21% neither/don’t know.
The public were asked about reducing the voting age from 18 to 16:
• 26% support: 51% oppose; 25% neither/don’t know.
The public support for the above two questions have a variation of 8%. By asking a question a particular way could determine two different answers. If we are using the terminology of ‘giving rights’ the support is higher than ‘reducing the voting age.’
Whichever way the above question was probed it remains that public majority are not in favour of reducing voting rights to 16 years at present. This research indicates if the debate continues supporters of lowering the voting age should argue about ‘rights’ instead of ‘reducing’.
Various newspaper publications express their opposing view to lowering the voting age. Mycock (2014) of The Guardian highlights the positives that came from the Scottish referendum decision to lower the voting age to 16 however, it also states that youths are disengaging with politics in general, not just because they are not being given the right to vote.
The article states that young people need to be educated on the foundations of the country it was built upon and current political issues before they are giving the responsibility to vote. It concluded that lowering the age could lead to further debates for minors such as why they cannot marry without parental consent, take out a mortgage or purchase alcohol.
There has been many reasons given as to why young people should not vote and many articles state similar reasons, these include:
• 16 is too young to make a political important decision, they lack maturity.
• This age group are influenced by ‘fake news’, propaganda and social media.
• If the voting age limit was lowered other restrictions would need to be reduced such as driving a car or getting a mortgage.
• Lack of history and political awareness could increase the risk of voting in a party that could be detrimental for the country.
• These youths would follow the voting trend of their parents.
Eichhorn (2018) investigated data from surveys relating to the Scottish independence referendum for 14-17 year olds. It wanted to identify if youths followed their parents/guardians trend with regards to voting, their engagement in politics at an early age and who does have an impact on their beliefs and views.
1,000 participants took part in the survey and was completed using telephone random selection (80% of Scottish households had a landline at this time). Once a parent was identified to have a child between the ages of 14 and 17 and had given consent for child to be questioned the telephone interview commenced.
This extensive research showed no visible evidence that adults had a higher level of interest in politics compared to minors. It also concludes that not all children had the same political perspective as their parents. 58% shared the same position as their parent regarding the referendum but over 40% held a different view.
Whilst more research is needed the study identified lowering the voting age in the Scottish referendum to 16 was positive and negative participation was not evidenced. It was highlighted when children held a discussion within the classroom re the referendum the likelihood of them discussing it with their parents had increased.
Rickard Straus (2018) analysed findings from a long running survey completed by the British Election Study and compiled a bar chart comparing voting figures between 18-24 year olds and 65+ year olds.
This bar chart indicates that the older generation have remained consistent at voting turnout compared to the younger age group however this was not always the case – why have young people become disillusioned with the political process?
Some research within the article suggests that the younger generation do not connect with a system that does not highlight youth issues on the political agenda therefore what is the point in voting, from this a negative cycle emerges. Politicians are aware of this view but do little to rectify the situation.
Many believe rejecting a young person’s right to vote at 16 and 17 years of age lacks democracy. Some conservative views are that minors do not have enough political knowledge and are not of a maturity level to make sound decisions at poll stations. We should not be subjective with youths and the public should not succumb to the current Prime Minister Theresa May’s ideology as reported by Peck (2017) in the Independent:
“We expect people to continue in education or training until the age of 18, and I think that is the right point for the voting age.” Theresa May
Various other parties are in agreement to lowering the voting age and there is a desire for change. I have designed my questionnaire to analyse and compare young people and adult views on current voting legislation.
The voting age of 18 should be lowered to 16 throughout the United Kingdom.
DESIGN AND REASON FOR CHOICE
There are various types of survey that I can use for my research, these include:
Electronic (by email): is cost effective but may receive low level response rate.
Observation: non-verbal communication required although can be time consuming.
Telephone: can talk directly with respondent but could be costly with mobile tariffs.
Personal (survey completed face to face e.g. questionnaire): I will be using a questionnaire. It has a positive response rate and I am able to answer any queries directly.
I had to understand the various data types that would best suit my research topic. Dudovskiy (2018) for Research Methodology describes this in detail. It is a method of gathering and assessing information relating to research and evaluating the findings. The data collection methods can be separated in two groups:
• Secondary data
This information is not obtained by you directly. The data is gained from previous research and can be found in newspapers, books, journals, internet etc. Secondary data is important in supporting your hypothesis.
• Primary data
This information is collected in person or within a group and is separated into two groups – qualitative and quantitative data.
– Qualitative data uses words, feelings, visual senses and observations. It is an extensive method of analysis however it can be time consuming. Data collection methods for qualitative data include interviews, attending focus groups and questionnaires with open ended questions. Due to the time constraints of my part-time study, work commitments and time allocated to complete my assignment I will not be using qualitative data.
– Quantitative data is based on numerical value and can be discrete or continuous. Continuous is measured on a numeric scale and can be taken to various degrees of accuracy e.g. height and weight. Discrete is based on whole numbers and is precise data. Quantitative data is used in closed ended questions and I will be using this in my questionnaire. It will enable me to collate data faster and will be easier to compare data in numerical format for a large group of participants.
I will be using the overt observing technique as the participants who complete the questionnaire will be aware of my research. The other observing technique is covert and it is the opposite of overt – participants are unaware they are involved in research. Many ethical concerns are raised when using covert observation.
SAMPLE AND HOW IT WAS CHOSEN
Sample types as mentioned by Barratt el al (2009) in Health Knowledge Organisation website are as follows:
• Simple random sampling
• Systematic sampling
• Stratified sampling
• Clustered sampling
• Convenience sampling
• Quota sampling
• Judgement sampling
• Snowball sampling
• Bias in sampling
I want a varied response from different age groups and social backgrounds therefore my questionnaire will be conducted in a city centre based location to access a diverse range of people. I will be using a variation of convenience sampling (participants willing to engage) and judgement sampling (researcher’s decision who to ask to participate in the study).
I have decided to collect primary data using a questionnaire (see appendix 1). The content will have closed questions, this will enable me to gain accurate and controlled data. Closed questions are easy and relatively quick to answer and are mostly factual.
Many believe that ethical consideration is the most crucial and important part of the research process. Bryman et al (2007) highlighted this in their book entitled ‘Business Research Methods’. They indicated that participants who took part in research were to be respected and safety to be priority when conducting studies. Consent should be obtained beforehand and privacy protection for the participants ensured. Honest communication regarding the study was to be relayed to any person who contributed in the research and no misleading information was to be presented.
I wanted to ensure these considerations were incorporated into my research assignment. When designing my questionnaire, I ensured it was ‘free from bias’ and no discrimination presented, terms used would be respectful to all. No leading questions or statements were used to steer statistics. The questionnaire was ‘unambiguous’ – clear and understandable. The answers had to be easily analysed to be collated in grouped data.
When asking members of the public to complete the questionnaire I will ask them for their consent before I undertake my research. One of my questions is specifically directed at 16-17 year olds therefore I will request parental consent for a minor to assist with the study. A parental signature on the questionnaire will evidence proof of consent from the adult for the minor to participate. A diverse group of people are being asked to complete the questionnaire therefore it had to be user friendly to adapt to varied age groups and social backgrounds.
Participants will be advised of their right to withdraw from the study at any stage and their data destroyed if they so wished. Anonymity and confidentiality will be ensured as no questions are related to a specific person. The questionnaire has been designed to ensure no identifies could be revealed.
People who partake in the study will be advised briefly of the reasons behind my research and details given of possible timeframes when my investigation will be concluded if they wish to examine my findings. I will provide them with my name and email address to allow them to follow up my research findings.
The materials needed to carry out my survey are:
• Weather appropriate clothing • Questionnaires
• Pens / pencils • Slip with my name and email
• Hard back folders for people to complete the survey standing
• Bryman, A. and Bell, E. (2007) Business Research Methods. 2nd edn. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
• Dudovskiy, J. (2018) Data Collection Methods online January 2018 ed. United States: research-methodology.net Accessed 22 October 2018.
• Eichhorn, J. (2018) Mobilisation through early activation and school engagement – the story from Scotland. Journal of Youth Studies. 21(8), pp. 1095-1110.
• Fieldhouse, E., Tranmer, M. and Russell, A. (2007) Something about young people or something about elections? Electoral participation of young people in Europe; evidence from a multilevel analysis of the European Social Survey. European Journal of Political Research. 46(6), pp. 797-822.
• O’Toole, T., Marsh, D. and Jones, S. (2003) Political literacy cuts both ways: the politics of non-participation among young people. The Political Journal. 74(3), pp. 349-360.
• Wagner, J., Johann, D. and Kritzinger, S. (2012) Voting at 16: turnout and the quality of vote choice. Electoral Studies. 31(2), pp. 372-383.
• Barratt, H. and Kirwan, M. (2009) Research Methods. Available from: https://www.healthknowledge.org.uk/public-health-textbook/research-methods/1a-epidemiology Accessed 18 October 2018.
• Mycock, A. (2014) The UK isn’t ready to lower the voting age to 16. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/oct/10/uk-voting-age-16-youth-politics Accessed 18 October 2018.
• Peck, T. (2017) MP’s to debate lowering voting age to 16. Available from: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/voting-age-lower-16-sixteen-mp-debate-commons-change-law-a8035191.html Accessed 23 October 2018.
• Rickard Straus, R. (2016) I always thought young people were the most political – so why aren’t they voting? They’re paying a heavy price for it. Available from: https://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/news/article-3612920/RACHEL-RICKARD-STRAUS-voter-turnout-low-young-people.html Accessed 28 October 2018.
• Yaxley, D. and Greenwood, J. (2018) Public support “the right to vote at 16” more than “reducing the voting age from 18 to 16”. Available from: https://yougov.co.uk/news/2018/05/23/public-support-right-vote-16-more-reducing-voting- (Accessed 18 October 2018.
Should 16-17 year olds be allowed to vote at elections?
Please note this questionnaire is anonymous and confidential and for research purposes only
1. My age range is:
16-17 years 18-30 years 31-40 years 40+ years
Parental consent signature _______________________
2. My gender is:
Male Female Transgender Non-binary
3. I am:
Employed Unemployed Retired Student Other
4. I take an interest in current local politics:
Strongly Agree Agree Neutral Disagree Strongly Disagree
5. Please indicate the current elected government within the United Kingdom?
Liberal Democrats Labour Conservatives Scottish National Party Unsure
6. Do you believe that 16 – 17 year olds should vote?
Strongly Agree Agree Neutral Disagree Strongly Disagree
7. If you think 16–17 years olds should not be allowed to vote, please indicate reason below:
Not mature enough Risk of irrational voting trends
Insufficient political awareness Other
8. If you are aged 18+ will you be voting in next election?
Yes No Unsure Not Applicable
9. Would you vote in elections if you were legally allowed?
Yes No Unsure Not Applicable