Don’t Know devolution generation

Lleu Williams on new polling research that shows young people are more turned off by politics in Cardiff Bay

As a part of their work for this year, Ein Dyfodol / Our Future  – the young people engagement element of the UK Changing Union project – wanted to find out what were the attitudes of young people in Wales towards devolution. The culmination of this work, conducted by Professor Roger Scully of the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University, being launched at the National Eisteddfod in Denbigh today, has thrown up some interesting results, as shown in the following tables.

Figure 1: Constitutional preference by age (%) 2012

The first result is in relation to what are the current attitudes of young people towards devolution. As you can be seen from Figure 1, younger voters (aged 18-35) are much more likely to choose the ‘Don’t Know’ option than older voters (aged 36 and older). Older voters are much more likely to choose ‘No devolution’, ‘More powers’ and even ‘independence’. Professor Scully notes that whilst the table suggests little difference in overall support for devolution, the distinction is that older voters have more clearly established views.

Figure 2: Constitutional preference by age (%)  1997

Figure 3: Constitutional preferences by age (%) 2011

The second interesting result is in relation to the changes in attitudes over time towards devolution. As can be seen from Figure 2, in 1997 younger voters were much more likely to support independence, whilst older voters were likelier to reject devolution outright. But if you compare these with the attitudes from 2011 in Figure 3, opposition to devolution drops and support for a parliament grows significantly. But as Professor Scully points out, younger voters are still more likely to choose the ‘Don’t Know’ option.

While Professor Scully concludes that, on the whole, younger voters were more likely to support devolution in 1997, there now appears to be little difference between older and younger members of the electorate. Furthermore, Scully again emphasizes that younger voters are notably more likely to choose the ‘Don’t Know’ option, something that he believes reflects the lower levels of engagement with ‘conventional politics’ amongst young voters.

This is the first research of its kind conducted in Wales and reaffirms the fears about apathy towards mainstream politics amongst young people that many academics have suggested for a number of years. Its important that this democratic deficit amongst the “devolution generation” is tackled now. After all, this is the generation, whose lives have been affected more than any other by devolution.

The report Attitudes of Young People Towards Devolution in Wales will be launched at the National Eisteddfod in Denbigh today at 2pm at Cymdeithasau 1. The launch will include contributions from Lleu Williams, Manon George (Wales Governance Centre), Owain Phillips (ITV Wales) and Catrin Dafydd (dramatist and author). The report is available in Welsh here and in English here

Lleu Williams is the UK Changing Union Project Coordinator, based at the Wales Governance Centre, Cardiff University.

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