What we can learn from the Scots

The referendum might have failed, but a high youth voter turnout raises questions about what can be changed at home.

Ronald Dixon

Last week, Scotland held a referendum to decide whether to split from the United Kingdom. Unfortunately for independence advocates, 55 percent of Scottish voters decided against separation.

While the implications may not seem relevant here in the United States, there is one thing that Americans should notice about the vote: youth voter turnout.

Scottish policy leaders decided to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote, enfranchising nearly 100,000 young citizens in the process. This was definitely worthwhile, as more than 90 percent of eligible Scottish youth registered to vote. This raises questions about how we can motivate young people in the U.S. to vote during our own election cycles.

We suffer from dismal turnout rates for young American voters. During the 2012 presidential election, for example, only 38 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 25 headed to the polls. This is a far cry from the 50 percent that cast ballots in 1964.

Perhaps campaigns should tailor their social media advertising to young people’s profiles. Maybe candidates should talk about issues that are the most relevant to this demographic, such as college debt and jobs for the recently graduated. Maybe more young and “hip” individuals should decide to run for office.

In any case, the Scottish referendum shows that young people can be motivated to vote; it is now merely a matter of whether we can achieve this in the U.S.