Thursday’s referendum on Scottish independence will be the first time in the United Kingdom that 16- and 17-year-olds will vote in a major ballot, following legislation passed by the Scottish Parliament in June 2013.
109,533 of those eligible teens have since registered to vote, The Guardian reported this week.
The gap between supporters and opponents of independence has narrowed considerably in recent months. Earlier this week, two new polls revealed 52% of respondents would vote “no” compared to 48% who would vote “yes.”
Comprising around 3% of the electorate, Scotland’s 16-and 17-year-olds won’t make a huge difference even if 100% of them voted, but a Scottish study suggests the youngest voting cohort is likeliest to tip the scales toward the “no” side. That’s because contrary to a popular belief, they are actually slightly more likely to vote against independence than adults, according to a 2013 report by University of Edinburgh social policy professor Jan Eichhorn for the nonprofit social research organisation ScotCen.
In a survey conducted from April 2013 to May 2013 of teens between the ages of 14 and 17, who would all be old enough to vote by today’s referendum, just 21% said they would vote “yes” in response to the referendum question, “Should Scotland be an independent country?” 60% said they would vote “no,” and 19% said they were undecided.
Eichhorn compared the results of his survey with several other polls of Scottish adult voters conducted in the same period. He found there was almost always a narrower gap between “yes” and “no” votes among adults, with typically 30% or more of those voters indicating they would vote “yes.”
The study also found a possible reason for the distinction; 14- to 17-year-olds were significantly less likely to feel a strong sense of Scottish identity than older voters. For instance, they were far less likely to identify themselves as “Scottish not British” (12%) compared to 18- to 24-year-olds (35%) and all voters over 18 (23%). They were most likely to consider themselves “equally Scottish and British” (45%) compared to their 18- to 24-year-old counterparts (22%) and all Scots over 18 (30%).
“Apparently one reason why young people are less likely to support independence is because they are more inclined to feel a dual sense of identity,” Eichhorn wrote, “a product perhaps of being the first generation to have grown up in a digitized world in which interpersonal communication is no longer bound by geography.”
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