69% of 16-24 year olds think the Senedd Elections are important – a higher proportion than in any other age group except the over 65s, according to a new YouGov Poll.
Electoral Reform Society Cymru, who commissioned the poll, said it showed that political parties should be reaching out to young people before the Senedd election on 6 May.
Today marks the start of Votes at 16 Week, a week of campaigning to ensure 16 and 17 year olds, who can vote for the first time at this election are registered and turn out at the polls.
As part of the week-long event, 32 leading civil society organisations and academics in Wales have called on political parties to ramp up their engagement with new voters ahead of the vote.
This election will be the first that 16 and 17 year olds and all qualifying foreign citizens are able to vote, representing around 100,000 potential electors.
The group has sent a letter to party leaders in Wales, signed by the Children’s Commissioner, Race Council Cymru, the NUS, Youth Cymru, Diverse Cymru and dozens more.
The letter calls of parties to:
- Commit to publishing easily accessible and engaging versions of their manifestos on a wide range of platforms
- Targeting young people and communities that are traditionally less likely to vote
- Ensuring that they are reaching out and listening to these newly enfranchised groups when producing their policies
- Remember that the cohort of voters for this election has changed
- Participate in hustings and other events that focus on newly enfranchised voters
“May’s election represents a significant step forward for Welsh democracy, with new voters adding fresh energy to the debate,” Jess Blair, ERS Cymru Director, said.
“It comes at a difficult time when we know the election will be anything but ordinary, but political parties and their leaders have a duty to ensure they play their part in the successful extension of the franchise.
“When Scotland extended their franchise to 16 and 17 year olds for the Independence referendum in 2014, we saw 16 and 17 year olds turning out in higher numbers than their 18-24 year old counterparts.
“We know that the first vote is crucial to building democratic habits that last for a lifetime, and evidence from Scotland has shown that younger people’s involvement raises the diversity and quality of political debate for everyone.
“That’s why it’s encouraging to see that young people realise the Senedd elections are so important – shaping decisions on health, education and our recovery as we come out of the pandemic.
“But this election is unlike others in Wales’ history. With so many new voters, parties must pull out all the stops to ensure they are reaching out to every community, and help create voting habits that last a lifetime. This has the potential to build a new generation of active citizens.
“Parties must not miss this chance, and we all have a role to play in making the May elections the accessible, democratic success they can be.”
The YouGov poll commissioned by the Electoral Reform Society also showed that the youngest 16 to 24 year old age group were much more likely to have engaged in political activity in the last 12 months.
77% reported to have engaged in some political activity compared with around half of people in all other age groups.
Despite these higher rates of wider political involvement and activism, almost half of 16-24 years said they’d be unlikely to contact their MS or MP (44% and 45% respectively) over an issue that could be addressed by either parliament, suggesting parties need to work hard this election to create ‘voting habits that last a lifetime’.
Nirushan Sudarsan, Llais Ifanc Peer Leader, said: “This year’s elections are vitally important for young people in Wales. As we see the devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on communities, health and the economy, we need to ensure young people’s worries and concerns are heard by people in power.
“With a whole new cohort of 16 and 17 year old voters who bring new ideas, energy and thoughts to the table, elected representatives need to commit to ensuring young people are at the top of their agenda when campaigning and engaging with voters.”