THE voting age should be lowered in all elections in the United Kingdom, according to new research.
Experts at Edinburgh University said the Scottish independence referendum, which saw 16 and 17 year-olds given the right to vote for the first time in a British poll, had “positive effects”.
A study, which has been released today, said that lowering the voting age permanently could increase young people’s engagement with politics.
The researchers also said that informed political discussion should also be encouraged in classrooms because schools had more influence than children’s parents in giving young people the confidence neded to understand politics.
Two surveys of more than 1000 under 18s were carried out by a think tank on behalf of Edinburgh University – the first in April and May last year before a follow up 12 months later.
It found that young people were at least as interested in politics as adults and that only seven per cent of those who took part failed to discuss the independence referendum with anyone.
However, it discovered that under 18s were less likely than adults to align themselves with political parties.
In the first survey carried out in 2013, 57 per cent said they did not feel a particular affinity to a party, a figure which dropped by six per cent a year later.
And while parents played a key role in encouraging their children to vote, more than 40 per cent of under 18s said they wouldn’t give their backing to the same party as their mum and dad.
In the wake of last month’s independence referendum, outgoing First Minister Alex Salmond called for 16 and 17 year-olds to be allowed to vote in the General Election in 2015.
He said there was now an “unanswerable case” for the move and urged Westminster party leaders to make the change in time for next May’s vote.
The author of the study said it was vital the schools and teachers seized on the opportunity to keep under 18s engaged with politics.
Dr Jan Eichhorn, from the university of Edinburgh’s School of Social and Political Science, said: “Fears of under-18s being inappropriately ideologised stem from an underestimation of young people’s capabilities.
“We found these fears to be unfounded.
“Their engagement with politics is complex and they appreciate school as a space to do this.
“To have a lasting, positive impact, we need to trust schools and teachers to discuss politics actively in the classroom.
“There are positive effects on young people’s political understanding and confidence that parental influence cannot achieve but school can.”