Skip to main content


EACEA National Policies Platform


5. Participation

5.2 Youth participation in representative democracy

Last update: 22 January 2021
On this page
  1. LAST MODIFIED ON: 11/11/2020 - 00:45

    On this page
  2. Young people as voters
  3. Young people as political representatives
  4. Candidates for European and UK Parliamentary elections, Northern Ireland Assembly and local elections, must be 18 years old or over. There are no quotas for young people.

    Young people as voters

    The voting age for European Parliament, UK Parliament, Northern Ireland Assembly and local council elections is 18. This is also the age requirement for UK referendums.

    Young people may register to vote if they are 16 or over.   As well as registration forms, the option of online electoral registration was introduced in 2018.  There are no special provisions in the electoral rules for young people or specific groups of young people.

    Overall turnout statistics for the 2019 local council elections in May 2019, published by the Electoral Office for Northern Ireland, was 52.7 per cent.  This is an increase from 2014 (51.3 per cent). There is no breakdown shown by age. 

    Overall turnout for Northern Ireland at the 2019 European Parliamentary election was Turnout was 44.8 per cent, the highest in the UK but lower than in 2015 when it was 51 per cent. No breakdown is available by age.

    Total turnout in Northern Ireland for the referendum on membership of the EU on 23 June 2016 was 62.7 per cent. There is currently no breakdown shown by age.

    According to a Northern Ireland Assembly 2017 election report carried out by the Research and Information Service (RaISe), overall turnout was 65.8 per cent, which represented an increase of 9.9 percentage points on the turnout figure for the May 2016 Assembly election. No breakdown by age is currently available.

    According to  2019 House of Commons statistics, overall turnout in Northern Ireland for the UK general election in December 2019 was 61.8%, the lowest voter turnout in the UK and a decrease from 65.4% in the 2017 election. 

    The number of female candidates fell from 36 in 2017 to 28 in 2019, against a backdrop of an overall fall in candidate numbers. The net effect was to decrease the proportion of female candidates, from 33 per cent in 2017 to 27 per cent in 2019. Alliance had the highest number of female candidates of the five main parties (9), followed by the SDLP (8) and Sinn Féin (4).


    Young people as political representatives

    Young people as party members

    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. Most of the major political parties have youth wings and/or special membership categories for young people.

    In the 2019 briefing paper Membership of UK Political Parties, data indicates 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