Are you old enough to vote at 16?

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1. Poll position

Millions of us will head to the polls in May to choose parliamentarians and councillors to represent us. However, with the exception of Scotland, only those aged over 18 will be able to take part.

But is this fair? Many believe the voting age should be lowered to 16, though others think it is far too young for such a responsibility.

In Scotland 16-year-olds can now vote in Holyrood and local elections – so is it time for everyone of that age to be given their say at the ballot box?

2. Personal freedoms

Click to find out what can 16-year-olds can and can't do in the eyes of the law.

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3. Too young to be trusted?

In the UK, the minimum voting age is 18, except in Scotland, where 16- and 17-year-olds have been given the right to vote in local and Scottish parliamentary elections.

By and large, 16-year-olds haven’t yet entered the world of home ownership, employment, tax or pensions but these economic issues are often at the forefront of election campaigns.

The main argument against lowering the voting age is that a lack of experience in these matters prevents young people from making a considered judgement at the ballot box.

Opponents also point to the fact that 18- to 24-year-olds have the lowest turnout of any age group in elections, reflecting an apparent lack of interest in politics. These critics question whether an even younger generation would be any different.

And there are concerns that teenagers who do want to cast their votes would be impressionable and easily influenced by radical politics, or would not fully think things through and would blindly vote for the same party as their parents.

4. Voting at 16

But calls to lower the voting age come from a range of sources – adults as well as teenagers themselves, backed up by youth organisations, pressure groups and politicians.

For supporters, it’s about giving young people a say in matters that directly affect them, such as tuition fees.

It’s also thought that lowering the limit will encourage civic-mindedness at an earlier age and establish an interest in the political system, which will be continued throughout a person’s life.

Scotland’s positive experience of including 16- and 17-year-olds in the 2014 independence referendum led to the lowering of the voting age for local and Holyrood elections.

A study by the University of Edinburgh during the referendum found that some teenagers were initially doubtful of their own abilities to make the right decision, but that this led them to actively seek out information to help inform their judgement.

In some cases teenagers even influenced their parents’ voting intentions with their new-found knowledge.

But as there are no immediate plans for the UK government to debate lowering the voting age for general elections, it is unlikely that all 16-year-olds will get the chance to put that to the test any time soon.

5. What have other countries done?

Some countries have already lowered the voting age to 16. What are their experiences?


Austria became the first European country to lower the voting age to 16, in 2011.

Political interest among young Austrians increased when they were given the opportunity to vote and had the ability to discuss and debate the issues in school.


Norway experimented with lowering the voting age in 2011, but the effect was less successful. The trial saw some but not all municipalities allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote. The eligible teenagers were generally interested in voting, but when compared to the those of the same age who couldn't vote, they showed no sign of an increased sense of civic responsibility.

Studies show that young people participate more when they feel they’re being taken seriously. But Norway’s teenagers knew they were part of an experiment, with no promise of lasting power, so it may not be that surprising that they were less engaged.