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EACEA National Policies Platform


5. Participation

5.2 Youth participation in representative democracy

Last update: 31 March 2021
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  1. Young people as voters
  2. Young people as political representatives

Young people as voters

In Spain, adulthood is fixed at 18 years (art 12 CE). Any Spaniard of legal age can exercise their right to active and passive suffrage under normal conditions. There is no restriction of being able to vote or to be a candidate for any public office of direct election other than to have reached the age of 18 (articles 2 and 6 of the Organic Law of Electoral Regime) and, if that is the case, not be convicted by a court of law of a temporary suspension of the right to vote.

This rule extends to all electoral processes in Spain, including any type of referendum. Therefore, any Spaniard can exercise their right to vote and be a candidate for public office once he or she has reached the age of 18. Unless a judicial sentence establishes so, all citizens can exercise their right to active and passive suffrage under the same legal conditions.

In addition, this rule applies in the same way to legal residents who does not have Spanish nationality but have resided in the country for a set amount of time and have registered in the electoral census in local elections and European elections. This is the case for citizens of the European Union and Third Country nationals with whom there is an international agreement of reciprocity with the Kingdom of Spain (Bolivia, Cape Verde, Chile, Colombia, South Korea, Ecuador, Iceland, Norway, New Zeland, Paraguay, Peru and Trinidad and Tobago).

The rules are similar for processes of direct democracy. In Spain these processes only produce legal effects when they are carried out in the manner of a binding referendum and can affect the whole of the State to an Autonomous Region, depending on the subject which they deal with.

There are other types of citizen consultations of a more advisory or informative nature that have been carried out at regional level and at local level. In the latter case, some municipalities have extended the right to vote to citizens under 18 years of age, for example in Catalunya, where the minimum age for participating in processes of public participacion (procesos de participación ciudadana) is 16 years old, as declared in the article 41 of the Law 10/2014, of 26 September.

There is no legislation specifically designed to promote or encourage the participation of young people in electoral processes or direct participation.

For historical reasons, the Spanish legislation on the exercise of the vote is as a guarantor, protecting to the maximum the right of secret ballot. Consequently, it is impossible to know exactly the distribution of electoral participation by age or by any other criterion. Only aggregate participation/abstention results are made public, without any distinction being made among voters.

Participation data according to age is based on analysis of secondary data and therefore merely indicative. Such breakdowns are drawn from post-election polls conducted by the Sociological Research Institute (Centro de Investigación Sociológica, CIS) and estimate participation rates among respondents. Generally, it can be established that voter turnout is greater in general elections, followed by local and regional elections (when they occur at the same time) and European elections, with, frequently, the lowest turnout.

The Youth Report in Spain 2016 (Informe Juventud en España 2016) from the Youth Institute (Instituto de la Juventud, INJUVE) pointed out that the average participation rate of under-30s in different elections is 70%.


Young people as political representatives

There is no legislation specifically aimed at the situation of young people as members of political parties. In that sense, they are governed by the Political Parties Act (Ley Orgánica de Partidos Políticos), which treats all members of the parties equally, regardless of their age, and by the parties’ own statutes. However, specific provisions on gender equality have been introduced in many political parties.

Most major parties have organically dependent youth organizations, which organize their internal management through their own statutes. The age limit for membership of these organizations and for their management positions is variable, sometimes exceeding an upper age limit 30 years old, and has been adapted to internal problems outside general rules.

Two main organizations are linked to the two main political parties in Spain. The Popular Party (Partido Popular, PP) has an organization known as Nuevas Generaciones (New Generations), which has more than 55,000 members, and the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (Partido Socialista Obrero Español, PSOE) hasa youth section called Socialist Spanish Youth (Juventudes Socialistas de España), with more than 20,000 members.

There are no positive discrimination measures aimed at securing elected positions for youth at any level of government or representative state, regional or local institution. Any citizen with the right to vote can exercise this both as a voter and as a candidate from the day he/she turns 18 years old.

The average age of deputies in Congress is 47.7 years of age in the current legislature, very similar to the average age of voters in Spain, 48 years old. But only 11 of the 350 deputies had not yet reached the age of 30 at the time of their election. By political party, the youngest deputies are from Podemos, with an average of 42 years old, followed by Ciudadanos, with 45. The party with the highest average age is the Nationalist Basque Party (Partido Nacionalista Vasco, PNV),at 57 years of age, followed by Popular Party and Republican Left of Catalonia (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, ERC), at 52 years old; PSOE stays close with 49 years of age.

There is no direct reservation of any specific functions relating to political representatives under the 30 years old in any parliamentary body.