Reports 2021/22

Electoral tunout and age

Four constitutional amendments to lower the voting age since 1814

In the original Norwegian Constitution from 1814, the voting age was 25 years. In 1920 that the voting age was lowered for the first time, then from 25 to 23 years. In 1946 it was lowered to 21 years. In 1967 it was reduced to 20 years and in 1978 it was set at 18 years.

Public debate about the voting age

There has been discussion about lowering the voting age to 16 in Norway over the past 20 years. The majority in the Election Law Committee 2020 is in favour of lowering the voting age to 16 years in local elections. The debate on lowering the voting age is on the agenda in many democracies. The most widely used argument for lowering the voting age is that this can increase political engagement and possibly increase turnout later in life. The most common argument against lowering the voting age is that young people are not yet knowledgeable enough or mature enough to participate in elections. Some election researchers claim that whether you get the right to vote when you are 18, 19, 20 or 21 years old can influence the probability to vote later in life. Statistics Norway can shed some light on the matter based on individual administrative data from the local voting committees.

Hardly any long-term effect to vote for the first time as an 18, 19, 20 or 21-year-old

Turnout fluctuates over the course of life. If one only observes the curve for turnout and age at one election, one can believe that there are significant differences between the generations (cohorts), and further that lower turnout among young people compared to middle-aged people in the long run will lead to a generally lower turnout. However, this presupposes that the differences can be traced back to differences in the willingness to vote between the generations (cohorts). When we observe several elections and follow the cohorts, we see the same pattern. The young people vote to a lesser extent than the middle-aged, but gradually the turnout increases when the young people also become middle-aged. For the oldest, turnout is declining, but if we go back in time, we see that these also voted to the greatest extent when they were middle-aged. There is little evidence supporting a long term-effect, eg. those who were given the right to vote as 19-year-olds vote to a lesser extent than those who were given the right to vote as 18-year-olds.

The voting age of 16 will hardly increase turnout in Norway

In 2011, trials were conducted with voting rights for 16 and 17-year-olds in selected municipalities. Statistics Norway examined whether these voted in the elections in 2011, 2013 and 2015. In this report, we show for the first time the extent to which they voted in the last local elections in 2019. The conclusion is that turnout is not higher for the 16 and 17 in the trial compared to people of the same age in the previous elections neither in the short or long term.

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