What if 16 and 17-year-olds ALWAYS voted in elections?

23/09/14

Young voters

When millions of people took part in the Scottish Referendum, history was made.

Not just because Scots voted on whether to break away from the UK after more than 300 years, but also because of who could have their say.

It was the first time anywhere in the UK that 16 and 17-year-olds could vote on a national issue.

Now Labour says if it's elected into power at the general election next year, it'll let them vote all the time.

So what are the chances of it happening?

Ed Miliband
Image caption Ed Miliband speaking at the Labour Party Conference

One thing's for certain, it won't happen before the general election next year.

So it all really depends on who wins the 2015 Election.

Ed Miliband is re-stating this would be a Labour policy as he tries to win over younger voters.

The Liberal Democrats have been long term fans of the idea too, with Lib Dem minister Danny Alexander telling Newsbeat "We'd have to see if it [letting under-18s vote] was practically do-able by the next election, I would want us to really try hard to make that possible."

Alex Salmond and David Cameron
Image caption A new law allowing under-18s to vote in the Scottish referendum was brought in after the Edinburgh agreement

The Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, who resigned after the country voted to stay part of the UK, also told the Scottish Parliament he would like under-18s to make a return to the ballot box.

But not everyone is on board, when Labour announced the same plans last year the Conservatives argued giving young people the vote would "politicise the classroom".

Should it happen?

Lizzie Lerpiniere
Image caption 22-year-old Lizzie Lerpiniere

For this one, we've asked two Scots who've recently voted, first, meet 22-year-old Lizzie.

"I think giving them [16 and 17-year-olds] the vote without ensuring that there are proper resources available for them to understand is a dangerous thing," she says.

Nathan Gibson
Image caption 18-year-old Nathan Gibson voted for the first time last week

"I feel that 16 and 17-year-olds are more likely to vote based on what their parents are saying, and not realise what they are actually voting for."

But Nathan, who's 17 and voted for the first time at the referendum, has got a taste for democracy.

"The referendum proved that that we are responsible enough to deal with the pressures of a major decision."

Although Nathan, who took part in the BBC's Generation 2014, also thinks the huge media coverage had a negative effect.

"It is a shame that an image of young people as troublemakers is created by a very small number of us," he says.

"I hope that if we do gain the right to vote in future elections and referendums, that we will be able to break away from this stereotype."

Can under-18s vote in other countries?

In some yes, but rather than read a long list of facts and figures, we've pulled them together in a 50-second video for you!

Ok so if 16 and 17-year-olds could vote in the UK, what would happen?

Anthony Wells
Image caption Anthony Wells from YouGov says older people are more cynical

This hinges on how many under-18s would actually vote, and in what way.

We've spoken to Anthony Wells, who is an associate director in the political team at YouGov, which is a survey company which looks at voting.

He says: "Young voters tend to be more Labour, tend to be more progressive, and they tend to be more likely to support parties like the greens as well, so it would move politics to the left a little bit, but not by very much."

So what's the reason for teenagers thinking more "progressively"? According to Anthony it's youthful optimism.

"Young people tend to be a lot more idealistic, more forward looking and want the world to be a better fairer place. Older people tend to be a lot more cynical."

Anthony doesn't think these youthful views will make a huge dent on UK politics though, because there isn't a specific place in the UK with a particularly high number of young people.

He says: "When you've got everyone over the age of 18 voting, that's about 40 million people, if you add in another few hundred thousand [young voters], it's not going to be enough to make a huge difference anyway, especially since the younger the voters are the less likely they are to vote."

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