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Three quarters of 16 and 17 year-olds would vote in the EU referendum, NUS research shows

Tuesday 24 May 2016

Three quarters of 16 and 17-year-olds would vote in the EU referendum if they could, new research by the National Union of Students (NUS) shows.

Poll results published by NUS today have revealed 76 per cent of 16 and 17-year-olds would vote in the EU referendum if they could, while four per cent would not vote and 20 per cent said they did not know.

NUS was a founding member of the Votes at 16 coalition and has long campaigned for young people to be given the chance to vote. The EU referendum is a once in a generation vote, but the people it will affect the most are denied the chance to have their say.

In September 2014 16 and 17-year-olds turned out in force when they were given the chance to vote for the first time in the Scottish independence referendum. Young people have proven they want to help shape the future and it is time their voices were recognised by the government.

The poll also showed 54 per cent of students are planning to vote in the EU referendum, with 58 per cent of them intending to vote to stay in the EU. 

Megan Dunn, NUS national president, said:

“The EU referendum will have a huge impact on young people’s futures and it’s a scandal the voices of 16 and 17-year-olds are missing from such a big decision. Whether it’s providing opportunities to work and study freely across EU countries or targeting funding to some of the most deprived areas of the UK, it’s clear the EU matters to young people.”

Shakira Martin, NUS vice president (further education), said:

“Schools and colleges don’t talk enough with students about democracy, decision-making and what being an active and engaged citizen is. I’m really pleased so many 16 and 17-year-olds want their voices heard in this debate but there’s so much more we can be doing in the curriculum to make sure all students understand how the EU and other political bodies work. It’s not OK that the only students who engage with politics in the classroom are those studying an A level in it.”

Vonnie Sandlan, NUS Scotland president, said:

“Giving 16 and 17-year-olds the right to vote in the Scottish independence referendum allowed them to make their voices heard – and this resulted in unprecedented engagement in politics, helping secure overall turnout of nearly 85 per cent on polling day. This year for the first time, 16 and 17-year-olds also had a vote in the Scottish Parliamentary elections. It’s only right young people have a say in the decisions affecting their country and I am delighted this is now the case in Scotland.

“Put simply, it’s a scandal that young voters won’t have a say on 23rd June. If UK politicians want young people to engage with politics, they must give them the ability to do so. Instead, 16 and 17-year-olds have been shut out of a decision that will hugely impact their future opportunities.”

Martin Doel, Association of Colleges (AoC) chief executive, said:

“Colleges across the country are encouraging students to have their say in the EU referendum by registering to vote. Young people have a significant electoral influence and we would like to see voting opened up to include 16-year-olds. This is a crucial decision that could affect their future and it’s important that all young people have a voice.”


Notes to editors:

  1. For more information please contact the NUS Press Office on 07866 695010 or
  2. NUS asked 971 students whether they would vote in the EU referendum and how they intended to vote. The poll included 200 16 and 17-year-olds, who were asked if they would vote if they could.
  3. More information about Votes at 16 is available here.