MAY’s Senedd election will be the first that 16 and 17-year-olds and all resident foreign nationals are able to vote in Wales, representing around 100,000 potential electors.
Now a coalition of 32 leading civil society organisations and academics – led by ERS Cymru – is calling on political parties to ramp up their engagement with new voters ahead of the Senedd elections on 6th May.
Unreleased YouGov polling commissioned by the Electoral Reform Society shows that 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.
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 – which calls on parties to ensure that they are reaching out and listening to these newly enfranchised groups when producing their policies, remembering that the cohort of voters for this election has changed. That could include making accessible versions of their manifestos across social media platforms, and participating hustings and other events that focus on newly enfranchised voters.
The YouGov polling also demonstrates that this youngest age group are also much more likely to have engaged in political activity in the last 12 months, with 77% reporting 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’.
May’s election represents a significant step forward for Welsh democracy, with new voters adding fresh energy to the debate. 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.
As ERS Cymru’s Jess Blair noted:
“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.”