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Academics call for vote to start at 16

Sixteen-year-olds should be given the vote, says a group of academics which has been looking into the political attitudes of young people.

In the latest edition of the Fabian Society's magazine, Fabian Review, the researchers also say that glamorous media campaigns to raise political consciousness are much less effective than cheap local initiatives.

One of the authors, Dr Dominic Wring of Loughborough University, says the picture emerging from their survey of 1,600 17 and 18-year-olds from Nottinghamshire, is "far from the ill-informed, apathetic mass many people seem to think".

He argues that some commentators - such as the think tank Demos which identified a "historical political disconnection" - have confused a negative attitude towards the political parties with alienation from the entire political process.

A majority of respondents agreed with the statements that "it doesn't matter which party is in power, in the end things go much the same" and "parties are only interested in people's votes". But only 5.6 per cent also felt that "voting is a waste of time" and three-quarters agreed that it was important to vote in national elections.

There was also evidence of other forms of activism - 85 per cent had signed a petition and 45 per cent had given money to a campaign.

Dr Wring also noted the responses to an open question on what they believed to be the most important political issues: "There was a wide range of responses indicating a genuine, serious interest in political issues. Hardly any of the responses were irrelevant or flippant - the most flippant we had was one which said the most important issue was helping England to win the World Cup. When you see the use Chirac has made of France winning, you realise that isn't as daft an answer as it might at first look."

Dr Wring says: "People of 16 are allowed to work and get married, and they pay taxes. Why should they be excluded from one of the most basic elements of citizenship?" The research, commissioned by Nottinghamshire County Council, found that only 8.5 per cent had heard of the Rock the Vote campaign (aimed at encouraging young people to vote in the last general election), as against 20.6 per cent for Nottinghamshire's Stick it in the Box initiative and 95 per cent for the county's anti-drugs DARE campaign.

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