As it currently stands, to be eligible to vote in a UK General Election one must be 18 years of age or older and be a British, Irish, or Commonwealth citizen who has leave to enter or remain in the UK. Certain individuals are also excluded from voting, including most convicted prisoners in pursuance of their sentences, which some view as a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights’ guarantee of free elections. In 2005, the European Court of Human Rights did, in fact, rule that the UK was in violation of the Convention due to its blanket disenfranchisement of prisoners, though the case was closed in 2018 after the UK allowed prisoners on Temporary Licence to vote.

62% of respondents say that citizens currently serving a prison sentence should not have the right to vote in General Elections.

A quarter (24%) of respondents believe that citizens currently serving a prison sentence should have the right to vote in General Elections, a belief which is heightened among 18-to-24-year-olds (37%) and 2019 Labour voters (35%). But a plurality or majority of all age groups think citizens in prison should not be eligible to vote, along with 75% of 2019 Conservative voters.

Some have called for an expansion of voting rights in the UK, not only to prisoners but also to 16-and-17-year-olds as was recently introduced in Wales or to all immigrants who are UK residents. However, the latest research by Redfield & Wilton Strategies shows that most of the British public is not supportive of giving the vote to 16 and 17-year-olds, immigrants who are not citizens, or prisoners.

When asked about lowering the voting age, the plurality (41%) of respondents said they would oppose allowing 16 and 17-year-olds the right to vote in General Elections. 38% said they would support lowering the voting age to 16, whereas 17% said would they neither support nor oppose the change. 

Respondents’ support for lowering the General Election voting age varies significantly with their own age: half (52%) of those aged 18 to 24 and 25 to 34 say they would support giving 16-and-17-year-olds the right to vote, compared to just a fifth (21%) of those aged 65 and over. In fact, two-thirds (66%) of those aged 65 and over say they would oppose lowering the voting age to 16.

Support also varies substantially by 2019 General Election vote: a majority (54%) of respondents who voted Labour say they would support giving 16-and-17-year-olds the right to vote in General Elections, which was a policy outlined in the 2019 Labour Election Manifesto. Meanwhile, a majority (62%) of Conservative voters say they would oppose.

There is also little enthusiasm among the British public to allow immigrants living in the UK to vote: 57% of respondents say no, immigrants living in the UK who are not British citizens should not be eligible to vote in General Elections. Alternatively, a quarter (26%) say immigrants who are not citizens should be able to vote, whereas 18% don’t know.

The greatest support for immigrants without citizenship being eligible to vote in UK General Elections exists among respondents aged 18-to-24 (37%) and 25-to-34 (36%). By contrast, three-quarters (75%) of respondents aged 65 and over believe immigrants living in the UK who are not citizens should not be eligible to vote.

A further 75% of 2019 Conservative voters think immigrants who are not citizens should not be eligible to vote, a significantly higher proportion when compared to Labour voters (44%) who say the same. Extending the franchise to all UK residents was also included in the Labour Party’s Election Manifesto, though just 36% of Labour voters say immigrants who are not citizens should be able to vote.

Although the Labour Party—and many of its 2019 voters—supported extending General Election voting rights to 16- and 17-year-olds and all UK residents at the last Election, there appears to be little appetite for such reforms among the wider public now. There is even less support for allowing citizens currently serving a prison sentence to vote, suggesting it would be a challenging policy for Labour or another Party to promulgate. After centuries of expanding the voting franchise in the UK, it appears most Britons are content with the status quo.

To find out more information about this research contact our research team. Redfield & Wilton Strategies is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

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