Votes at 16: Beaufort’s research indicates young people in Wales are interested in voting, despite a limited understanding of Welsh politics

Our recently published research for the Welsh Government shows young people and foreign nationals living in Wales are more interested than some groups of adults in being able to vote in local elections – but often feel unprepared.

We were commissioned to carry out a broad-ranging piece of qualitative research across four audiences: young people aged 14-17, politically disengaged adults, foreign nationals living in Wales and stakeholders.

The report highlights some of the key barriers to voting in Welsh elections and getting involved more in helping to change or improve communities.  Prominent issues were a lack of knowledge, finding politics confusing and unappealing and a general disillusionment with politics and politicians (more prevalent among disengaged adults who do not currently vote). The voting process itself did not emerge as a key barrier to voting in Welsh elections although foreign nationals were sometimes uncertain about voting rights for different elections in the UK.

We also found that participants cared about the communities in which they lived but they were often not clear on how to raise an issue or get any changes made.

Knowing more, feeling listened to, and being confident that participation can make a difference were key themes from participants’ suggestions for improving engagement. Schools and the education sector have a significant role to play in addressing the barrier of lack of knowledge, through embedding citizenship and political education in Wales’ new curriculum. Face to face interaction in the community and social media / online could also play a part in reaching and engaging people.

The report highlights were presented at the ‘Lowering the Voting Age in Wales’ event at the Pierhead Building in Cardiff Bay on 3 March. 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 (pictured above) 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.