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EACEA National Policies Platform


5. Participation

5.2 Youth participation in representative democracy

Last update: 22 January 2021

LAST MODIFIED ON: 10/11/2020 - 23:49

On this page
  1. Young people as voters
  2. Young people as political representatives

Young people as voters

A person must be 18 or over to vote in all types of elections in England. This also applies to referendums. A person must register in order to be able to vote and is then placed on the electoral register (also known as the electoral roll). Registration to vote takes place from the age of 16. This may be done online.

There are no special provisions in the electoral rules for young people or specific groups of young people, although students who are at a university or college in a different area (called a constituency) to their home address can register in both constituencies. They may only vote in one of these constituencies at a general election, but if the home and university addresses are in two different local authority areas, they may vote in local elections in both.  

European Parliament election

UK turnout in the 2019 European Parliament election was 36.9%. This was higher than the 35.4% recorded in 2014, but lower than the 38.2% recorded in 2004. No age breakdown is available.

Local elections

Local elections are held at different times for different local council areas.  The most recent local elections were held in June 2019. For more information and data, a briefing paper of the Local Elections 2019 was published, by the House of Commons Library. There are no age banding statistics available. 

Referendum on membership of the European Union

According to the Electoral Commission’s data, overall turnout in the referendum held on 23 June 2016 on the UK’s membership of the European Union was 72.2 per cent.  Based on post-election sampling it has been reported that the turnout for 18-24-year-olds was 64 per cent.

UK General Election

Research published by the British Election Study Team in 2018 found that turnout by age in the 2015 and 2017 elections ranged from between 40% and 50% among the youngest voters to over 80% among the oldest. Polling research from Ipsos MORI suggests that turnout in 2019 ranged from 47% among 18 to 24-year‑olds up to 74% among over-65s. This is a wider gap than in 2017, when the same pollsters measured turnout at 54% and 71% respectively in these age groups. However, Ipsos MORI caution that it uses pre-election survey data to derive these turnout estimates, which for several reasons it describes as one of the “hardest challenges” of analysing such data.

Data published by YouGov, which based their findings on a survey of over 40,000 adults, found that as in the 2017 election, age continued to be the biggest dividing line in the 2019 election. The data indicates that little has changed on this front over the past two years, with Labour still winning a majority of younger voters and the Conservatives remaining more popular among older Britons.  

study by the Electoral Commission found that one of the main drivers of lower levels of completeness of the electoral registers in 2015 remained age:




96 per cent


93 per cent


90 per cent


82 per cent


70 per cent


67 per cent


65 per cent


45 per cent


oung people, who are more likely to move frequently from one address to another, are less likely to be registered.

The lowest rate of registration is in the category known as ‘attainers’ (16-to 17-year-olds who will reach the voting age within the twelve-month period starting on 1 December after they make their application to register). For the 18-19 year olds, there was also a statistically significant drop of nine percentage points since the previous year. This is associated with the transition, in June 2014, to a system of individual electoral registration (IER), replacing the previous 'head of household' registration system.

The Commons Library Briefing Paper on political disengagement, published in September 2018, reported:

  • young people reported lower levels of knowledge about politics than other age groups; 
  • young people were less likely than other ages to participate in political activities, to be on the electoral register; and 
  • to vote in elections. 


Young people as political representatives

There is no legislation governing young people as members of political parties. The age at which they can join, other eligibility criteria and the benefits of membership are matters for the parties’ own rules.

In the 2019 briefing paper Membership of UK Political Parties, the data stated that 18-24 year olds make up between 4 to 6 per cent of the membership of the main political parties.  

Young people as candidates

Candidates for European and UK Parliamentary elections and for local elections must be 18 years old or over. There are no quotas for young people.

Of the Members elected to Parliament in 2019, 49% of MPs elected were aged over 50. Members aged 18-29 and those over 70 each represented 3% of the total. 

There are no functions reserved for young people.