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Scottish Independence Poll: Were Youngest Voters Less Likely To Vote For Independence?

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The youngest voters to take part in Scotland's historic referendum were actually less likely to vote for independence, a leading academic has said.

The claim flies in the face of the emerging narrative that younger, less cautious voters, including the 16-and-17-year-olds allowed to vote for the first time - were "sold out" by the older generation who, fearing for their pensions, voted no to independence.

Even Alex Salmond encouraged this view and it prompted a deluge of nasty tweets, accusing older people of betraying the cause.

scottish independence

Schoolchildren leave a polling station on the day of the Scottish independence referendum, the first ever UK poll where 16 and 17 year olds could vote

Speaking after he decided to stand down as Scottish First Minister in the wake of the defeat, Salmond, 59, said: "I think Scots of my generation and above should really be looking at themselves in the mirror and wonder if we, by majority, as a result of our decision, have actually impeded progress for the next generation which is something no generation should do."

This point of view was encouraged by Lord Ashcroft's snap post-election poll that concluded 71% of 16 and and 17 year olds voted Yes.

But one expert told HuffPost UK its polling sample - just 14 people in that age bracket - was so small it should be "completely ignored".

Dr Jan Eichhorn, an Edinburgh University academic, said his research on Scots aged 14 to 17 earlier this year - including many who were due to vote in referendum - might explain why their age group had a narrow preference for no rather than yes.

A YouGov poll painted a more complex portrait than the Ashcroft one. It showed only the over-65s voting against independence by a wide margin - and other age brackets voting no only by a narrow margin and only the 35-39s voting yes. It showed 51% 16 to 24 year-olds voted no.

Dr Eichhorn was among a group of academics who surveyed teenage Scots earlier this year and said these results did not surprise him - adding those aged 16 to 17 may have voted no by a wider margin than those aged 18 to 24.

They surveyed 1,006 Scots aged between 14 to 17 in May and June, 724 of whom were old enough to vote in the September 18 referendum.

Dr Eichhorn told The Huffington Post UK younger people were not radically different in their outlook."The most important thing for them was the same questions as older people. How would an independent Scotland do economically? Would it be prosperous?" he said. "They were very similar to most in deciding (how to vote) based on pragmatic evaluations."

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Youngsters are "more trans-national," he said.

"First of all, they were more likely to say they were Scottish and British equally. They felt very strongly Scottish but no less British.

"Secondly, they were much more pro-European. They have grown up in a more inter-connected world where borders are far less visible.

"They've grown up with cheap air travel to Europe, they've seen their parents order things from the rest of the world.

"The first computer they ever sat down was probably connected to high-speed internet."

The survey asked young people to rate feelings of being Scottish or British. Only 15% of the 14 to 17 year olds said they were "Scottish, not British", compared with 39% who said they felt "equally Scottish and British".

Only 5% of 14 to 17 year olds Dr Eichhorn and his colleagues surveyed wanted to leave the EU. This compared to 19% in Scotland as a whole, according to the most recent Scottish Social Attitudes survey.

More than two thirds of the youngsters - 67% - favoured either keeping the EU as it was or expanding its powers, compared with 36% of the country as a whole.

Though 16 and 17 year olds took part in national polls about how they intended to vote in the referendum, there was no separate one exclusively for them.

Ben Page, chief executive for pollsters Ipsos Mori, told HuffPost UK their analysis suggested 16 and 17 year olds had voted between 55% and 60% in favour of independence, based on two different poll series they did.

But the relatively small number of people sampled of that age meant the margin of error for that was around 10%, he added. The Yougov poll figure - a 51% vote for no - was among 16-24 year olds.

Dr Eichhorn said his survey results suggested 16 and 17 year olds "may have dragged (the yes vote figure) down", by voting no by a wider margin.

alex salmond

Alex Salmond said back the notion older voters had let down younger ones, saying they had 'impeded progress' by voting no

If younger voters are less inclined towards independence because of the interconnected times they have grown up in, could this trend continue in years to come, as people born in the age of cheap international travel and instant internet make up more and more of the population?

Could it be that, if another referendum is held in a generation's time, more people vote no?

"It is hard to predict indeed," Dr Eichorn said but he added the younger generation's support for the EU made it more complicated. "We have seen that for some, being in the EU was important and more likely to be achieved if Scotland was independent. So if the threat of leaving the EU became larger because of a referendum in the UK on EU membership, this could play out differently. The terms of independence would be in a different context."

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