Renewing democratic engagement in Wales












In July 2018, the then First Minister announced the Welsh Government’s legislative programme for the next 12 months. It included provisions for extending the voting franchise for local government elections to 16 and 17 year olds and citizens of all countries living in Wales lawfully . The proposal overlapped with plans to extend the voting franchise to 16 and 17 year olds in elections for the National Assembly for Wales.

The Welsh Government was interested in how to engage with the proposed newly enfranchised groups of voters and those who are already enfranchised but politically disengaged. We were commissioned to carry out qualitative research with members of the public to explore democratic engagement with these groups.

We spoke with 148 participants in total, covering 14-17 year olds, disengaged adults, foreign nationals and stakeholders. Headline findings included how:

– Younger people and foreign nationals were more likely than disengaged adults to show an interest in voting in local elections

– Participants were more familiar with local councils than the National Assembly for Wales (now the Welsh Parliament / Senedd Cymru) – but some didn’t know what councillors do

– A lack of knowledge, finding politics confusing and unappealing and general disillusionment were key engagement barriers

– Foreign nationals were sometimes uncertain about voting rights for different elections in the UK

– Participants cared about the communities in which they lived but it tended to be unclear how to raise an issue

– Knowing more, feeling listened to, and knowing participation can make a difference were key themes from participants’ suggestions for improving engagement

The report highlights were presented at the ‘Lowering the Voting Age in Wales’ event at the Pierhead Building in Cardiff Bay. The event, sponsored by the Llywydd and with young people and stakeholders participating, involved research presentations, a panel discussion and workshops addressing the challenges related to the implementation of votes at 16 in Wales.  It was organised as a collaboration between the University of Huddersfield, Electoral Reform Society Cymru and the Welsh Government.

Julie James AM, Minister for Housing and Local Government gave her perspective on the report and highlighted its importance in helping to identify the challenges and suggestions for moving forward. The event and research findings sparked media interest and social media debate.

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