Senedd Election 2021: How do 16-year-olds feel about voting for the first time?

  • Watch the report by Rob Osborne

When Wales goes to the polls in May it will be a bit different this year. Not just because there may well be some form of coronavirus restrictions in place, but also as it will be the first time 16 and 17 year olds will be able to vote.

So how are first time voters feeling about exercising their democratic right? Four Welsh teenagers got together to talk about what they think about politics, being able to vote in May and what politicians need to do to get them engaged.

Saynab said she is looking forward to voting

Saynab from Cardiff said, “I’m not going to lie, I do feel a bit nervous because it’s my first time voting but I do feel a bit excited and I’m looking forward to it.”

Nel Pennant Jones from Brynrefail in north Wales felt the same. She said, “It’s my first time voting and I feel like I need to make the right decision."

When asked if they were going to exercise their right to vote, Sultan, from Swansea, was undecided.

Sultan said he is currently undecided on who he is going to vote for in May

He said, “I’m just not confident to go there and just vote. Right now, I’m still on the edge of whether I want to vote or not. But I definitely feel I should be able to have a voice and an opinion on what my future is going to be.”

Four Welsh teenagers came together to discuss politics and voting for the first time for ITV Wales' Sharp End

Betsan was also unsure to begin with but now said she felt that it is important for their generation’s voice to be heard.

The 16-year-old from Carmarthen said, “I was hesitant to start when I heard that I could finally vote. I didn’t feel like I was knowledgeable enough on the whole political world. I just feel like it’s so complicated and there’s so many aspects to it. 

Betsan said she thinks young people should make the most of being able to vote

“Now I feel like so many people have put their lives on the line just for us to have a chance to vote and I feel like we should respect that. At the end of the day it’s our future and I think it’s us that should be able to make the decisions.”

The four teenagers who believed that education and equality were the main issues that mattered to young people, unanimously agreed that politicians didn’t talk or engage with their generation.

They said it’s because they haven’t had a vote until now and therefore, their voices haven’t mattered.

Discussing voter turnout for 16 and 17-year-olds, Nel and Saynab believed that it could be quite low due to the lack of political education in schools.

Nel said politics should be taught more in schools to help young people decide who they want to support

Nel said, “We don’t really have the confidence yet to vote. I will vote but I don’t actually know who I’m voting for and what changes they will make. I need to do much more research but I think it will be quite low.”

The others however believed the turnout for first time voters will be high this year with young people being excited to use their voices for the first time. But, Betsan is unsure how prepared young people are and believes that it might be a case of “putting a cross in a random box” for many.

As part of the Senedd’s ‘Use Your Voice’ election campaign, they are holding  ‘Vote 16 Week’ between the 22-26 February to raise awareness and give young people the confidence to vote for the first time.

The Senedd elections will be held in May 2021

Digital activities, workshops and a mock election have been scheduled for the week with the aim of educating young people about the voting process and giving them the confidence to use their voices on issues that matter to them.

Llywydd of the Senedd, Elin Jones said this year's election "will remain in the memory for many reasons as we continue to live with the devastating losses and damage caused by the pandemic. 

“But we will also remember that 2021 was the year we empowered our 16 and 17-year-olds to use their voice and make a real contribution to their country's democratic process, to choose who will represent them in their Senedd.

“The Senedd Cymru campaign, and the focus of education and engagement activities, aims to build the confidence of Wales' youngest voters to participate in the democratic process now and for years to come, starting with registering and casting their first vote in May.

“It's important for them to know that their voice counts.”

Following a YouGov poll, showing that 69% of 16-24 year olds think the Senedd Elections are important, the Electoral Reform Society in Wales (ERS Cymru) are calling on parties to reach out to new voters and to ramp up their engagement with young people.

Jess Blair, ERS Cymru Director said, “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.

“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.”  

Find out more on Vote 16 week and more information on registering to vote on the Senedd website here.