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The lessons of 1969: policy learning, policy memory and voting age reform

Abstract

This article utilises the developing research literatures on policy learning and memory, with particular focus on the interconnections between institutional amnesia and policy myopia, to analyse the lowering of the age of enfranchisement to 18 for all elections in the UK in 1969 and its resonance, or otherwise, in contemporary debates concerning ‘Votes-at-16’. Political and public interest in voting age reform has intensified in recent years. There has, however, been a noticeable lack of interest from either advocates or those opposed to ‘Votes-at-16’ in the ground-breaking decision taken by the UK government in 1969 to lower the voting age to 18 and policy lessons resulting in this radical reform. The article provides an overview of the policy debates linked to the lowering of the voting age to 18 in the UK in 1969 and then explores its policy effects and potential policy learning available from the introduction of ‘Votes-at-18’. It concludes that a lack of memory of past policy interventions such as lowering the voting age to 18 can be a product of both ‘institutional amnesia’ combined with intentional and unintentional forms of ‘policy myopia.

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Correspondence to Andrew J. Mycock.

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This work was supported by the Leverhulme Trust under Grant R00476-01. The Authors declare that there is no conflict of interest.

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Mycock, A.J., Loughran, T.I. & Tonge, J. The lessons of 1969: policy learning, policy memory and voting age reform. Br Polit (2021). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41293-021-00192-6

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Keywords

  • Institutional amnesia
  • Policy myopia
  • ‘Votes at 16’
  • Policy learning
  • Voting age reform