The young people having their say in this year's Senedd election

  • Teenagers share thoughts on voting for the first time with ITV Wales reporter Siôn Jenkins

Young people could "really change the turnout" in this year's Senedd election, research suggests.

It will be the first time 16 and 17-year-olds can vote in a Welsh election, after a new law was passed in 2019.

The move means young people in Wales will now be able to have a say in devolved issues such as health, education and the economy.

On Wednesday 21 April, ITV Wales is dedicating its coverage to young people with a special programme that will be aired on television and live-streamed across ITV Wales Twitter and Facebook pages at 6pm.

The programme will tackle issues that matter to young voters, see teenagers put their questions directly to party leaders, and invite guest editors to contribute towards output.

Eshaan Rajesh said it is his "democratic duty" to vote. Credit: ITV Wales

17-year-olds Eshaan Rajesh, Saffron Vanderkolk-Pellow, Victor Ciunca, all from Cardiff, will all be voting for the first time in this election.

Eshaan described it as his "democratic duty" and said he needs to "grab this opportunity with both hands".

Saffron said using her vote is particularly important to her as a woman.

"We took so long to get the right to vote. If we're not [voting] we're doing a disservice to people like Emmeline Pankhurst and the suffragettes who dedicated their lives to it," she said.

Victor said: "I think it's so important to vote - it's deciding what type of society you want to live in.

"For me, not voting means that I'm letting somebody else decide that."

Saffron said her vote is particularly important to her as a woman. Credit: ITV Wales

Victor added that he and his friends have had "heated arguments" about voting and politics, but he feels this is a positive thing.

"I think talking about it and giving the right to vote to 16-year-olds is solidifying their role in society and it's just making them more important.

"The fact that they've got the right to vote now means they'll integrate themselves more into society, get more involved and have a more important role."

Saffron said she is concerned that not all of her peers know they can vote, and feels this needs to be taught more widely in schools.

"It's not in the education system unless you specifically take politics and government, and I think that needs to be changed.

"I go to my friends, 'are you going to vote?', and they go, 'I didn't know I could vote this year', and that's the problem I think."

Victor said the "heated arguments" he has had with his friends about politics are positive. Credit: ITV Wales

Saffron and Eshaan both said mental health matters to them in this election, and all three youngsters felt education was a key issue.

Victor also highlighted youth poverty, which he said "shouldn't have a place in our society, but it does".

He also felt that some political parties and candidates have been engaging with young people more than others.

But Saffron said she does not feel they are reaching out to her as a young voter.

"Political parties are saying how 'you should vote for your child's future, for the next generation', but no one is saying, 'you should vote for your generation, for your future'.

"Why shouldn't we be able to take our own responsibility, why shouldn't we be able to vote for ourselves?"

Ishaan added that he is surprised to find that parties are not engaging with young people, when there could be a high turnout of voters who could have an impact.

  • ITV Wales journalist Katie Fenton gives a simple guide to this year's Senedd election

Andy Mycock, Reader in Politics at the University of Huddersfield, said it is vital that politicians connect with young voters in Wales.

"Young people are important in two ways at least," he explained.

"One is that they are the voters of tomorrow, and they are beginning their journey towards a lifelong of political activism, and so that first experience of voting really matters.

"I think the second thing which is important is that bringing in young voters should change the tone of politics in Wales.

"We should start to see more policies that look like and interest young people, but also the way that politics is done will change.

"Particularly, young people spend a lot of their lives online, and so political parties are in for a steep learning curve in how they're going to be able to change the way they behave to make sure that voters feel valued, and that young voters are going to turn out on 6 May."

He said evidence suggests that interest shown in voting among young people is so far mixed.

"There is certainly a considerable interest in the introduction of votes at 16 in Wales across all the political parties.

"But there isn't that much evidence to say that they've extensively changed the way in which they're designing their policy platforms, or the way in which they're engaging."

Research suggests that in the lead up to an election, voters are open to listening to different parties and their policies, Mr Mycock said.

"If young people haven't felt that they've been listened to and valued as new members in the electorate, then they may not vote, because they don't think that they've been welcomed into an inclusive electorate in the same way as, say, older voters are."

He said younger voters have typically supported independence-supporting parties, compared to older voters typically supporting union-supporting parties.

"What we're seeing in Wales in early polling is that that effect is being replicated - to a lesser effect - in Wales at the moment," he added.

He also said that research of previous elections suggest that young voters "really could change the turnout", adding that it is "absolutely vital" parties engage with them.

An Electoral Commission survey found that 75% of 16 and 17-year-olds voted in the Scottish independence referendum.