Youth election project U18

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Main actors

City Government, National Government, NGO / Philanthropy

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Project area

Whole City/Administrative Region

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Ongoing since 1996/01

The U18 initiative is a simulated vote that takes place nine days ahead of real ‘adult’ elections, either local or national. The project is designed to generate an interest in politics amongst young people and supplement their political education.

Understanding politics can be daunting for young people. U18 helps to make it fun and accessible. Throughout the year, participants study manifestos, form parties and debate with politicians, culminating in a mock election which takes place a week ahead of the real elections. Any organisation dealing with young people, from schools to youth centres, can register as a ‘polling station’, and benefit from online teaching resources. With a current lack of political education taking place in schools, the scheme helped reach 198,365 young people from diverse backgrounds at the 2013 parliamentary election, and is ever growing both in size and reputation.

Originally published by EUROCITIES, the network of 130 European cities - PDF: 

Sustainable Development Goals

Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels


This project was awarded the 'EUROCITIES Awards' in 2012 in the following category: Participation.

Berlin, Germany

Size and population development
The population registered for the municipality of Berlin in 2017 was 3,613,500, making it the second most populous city in the European Union. The larger metropolitan area has around 5 million people living in 1,347 square kilometres, giving it a population density of around 15,000 people per square kilometre—similar to Mexico City or Tokyo.

Population composition
It has been estimated that up to 30 percent of Berlin’ s population are of foreign origin. The foreigners originate from other parts of Europe—such as Serbia, Croatia, Poland, Russia, Spain, Bosnian, Bulgarian, and Italian—as well as from countries outside of Europe, such as Turkey, Palestine, Iran, Syria, Egypt and Ghana. The largest non-native population comes from Turkey; in the year of 2010, there were more than 100,000 Turkish registered as inhabitants of Berlin.

Main functions
Berlin is the capital and largest city of Germany, as well as one of the nation’s 16 states. It is situated approximately 112 miles (180 km) south of the Baltic Sea and lies in the wide glacial valley of the Spree River, which runs through the centre of the city. The city extends over an area of 891.7 square kilometres and stands at an average altitude of 34 meters above sea level. After the reunification of the two Berlins in 1990, Germany began a process to centralize the capital to Berlin (replacing Bonn, the former capital of West Germany). Since then, Berlin is the place where the German House of Representatives and the German Bundestag hold elections. However, it wasn’t until 2001 that the Bundestag and the government of Berlin were fully established under the same roof. Berlin is also a city of great cultural significance, which is evident if one considers the amount of historical landmarks that tie the city’s history to its multiple overlapping pasts. Some of the most important landmarks include the Holocaust memorial (inaugurated in 2003), remnants of the Berlin Wall (taken down on the 9th of November 1989), the Reichstag Building (which dates to 1884). As the capital of Germany, Europe’s most populous and economically powerful country, Berlin is also the centre of, culture, politics, media and science in the country and serves as a European hub for air and rail traffic.

Main industries / business
As the 4th largest economy of the world, Germany participates of a wide array of industries with a famous efficiency. In Berlin one may find strong state-owned enterprises, like the Deustche Bahn (the railway), which employs the largest amount of general population (more than 20,000 people). Other companies that thrive in Berlin are: the Deustche Post (DHL), the technology company Siemens, the automotive manufacturer BMW, and the telecommunications company Deutsche Telekom. Hence, one may assume that Berlin specializes in the secondary and tertiary sectors of economy. Tourism brings more than 135 million visitors to the city (which include day-time visitors as well as overnight ones). Apart from other student cities in Germany like Köln and Munich, Berlin houses some of the most well-reputed universities in the world: the Freire Universität Berlin and the Humboldt Universität zu Berlin, with more than 30,000 students each.

Sources for city budget
Berlin draws its budget for public expenditure largely from taxes, transfers received, fees, fines, and operating revenues. This money is federally approved and spent in such a way that it can also be used in the form of funding for companies, not only to comply with the provision of quality public services.

Political structure
Berlin serves both as a city with a local government and as capital of Germany. In regard to the latter, it houses the Bundesregierung (Federal government), the Bundestag (Federal parliament) and the Bundesrat (the States’ chamber of Parliament). Each of the 16 states of Germany has representation in Berlin. It is governed by the Berlin Senate which is comprised of 10 senators and the Governing Mayor. Also, the embassies of other countries from around the world are housed in the city. The 16 states (Laender) have a similar standing to the federal government in respect to most issues.

Administrative structure
Berlin is administrated by the Senate and its 12 districts or boroughs. The Senate is the city’s central administration, in charge of city planning, public policy, and regulation of public and private spheres. The district administrations decentralize some public functions, with reasonable difference between the various localities.

U18 began in 1996 at a Berlin youth club in the district of Berlin-Mitte, but now takes place in various locations around the city and across the country. Schools, youth clubs and other organisations connected with young people, such as libraries, can register with the U18 website as a polling station. Mobile polling stations are placed on streets and squares to ensure the project reaches a wide range of young people. As an element of competition, each polling station then designs its own ballot box or booth used at the U18-election, with the best winning a prize after voting has taken place.

The project provides young people from all nationalities and backgrounds with an accessible channel into politics, given that political education in schools is not always sufficient to get them really interested in politics.

The organisations registered as polling stations and other individuals can access a range of teaching materials available on the U18 website, which are used as a basis for the preparation in the year running up to the election. Throughout this year, young people take part in a range of activities. These include studying manifestos, forming parties, carrying out voluntary and charitable activities and debating with politicians.

Many politicians back the project by meeting young people, coordinating tours of the House of Representatives or acting as patrons of the initiative. The project is also supported by the Senate Department and Berlin’s borough offices, by providing rooms, funding and educational materials. A steering group, comprised of representatives from the numerous youth organisations behind the project, is responsible for overseeing its management.

Then, nine days before the real elections, these activities culminate in an election for children and youngsters, which is conducted just like a real ballot vote – the parties and candidates are the same. The registered organisations download ballots from the U18 website and provide a voting booth which, like the real ones, closes at 18:00. Once closed, voters can follow the results projections online and a twohour election broadcast is also put together by the young people.

The project is mainly financed by the department for education of the Berlin Senate and a number of other organisations. Some boroughs also allocated funding from their own budgets, as well as resources such as staff and rooms. 

Since the first polling booth opened in 1996, participation has continued to increase steadily. In 2001, 5,000 young people voted in the U18 elections ahead of the Berlin House of Representatives elections and by 2016 that number had risen to 25,504. A survey carried out to gauge the impact of the project revealed that U18 voters are very interested in political issues and that their decisions are usually based on facts and made more confidently than those without the preliminary education provided by the project. Interestingly, the results recorded from the Berlin House of Representatives U18 elections in 2011 differed somewhat from the real results, with the young people favouring the green party overall, which was placed third in the real elections, where the young people’s second choice, the social democratic party gained the most votes.

During the preparation phase of an election, the participating organisations cooperate to provide young people with knowledge about politics. The pooling stations and coordination centres organise activities through which young people can develop their own opinion about political parties and be critical about the propositions made by politicians. 

The commitment of young people happens at several levels during an election. In the run-up to an election, the staff at the polling stations are sought out by the young people to organise discussions and debates. Nine days before the real election, young peopole can choose a voting place, tick off their first and second votes, and then cast the ballot into a ballot box. Afterwards, they are also responsible for the counting of the ballots. A live election coverage organised at the parliamentary elections in 2009 and 2013, as well as at the election for the parliament of Berlin in 2011 gave young people the opportunity to ask questions to politicians and to learn media skills. Afterwards, pedagogical institutions are responsible for ensuring the follow-up and benefit from didactic support available on the U18 website.

Cities in action - U18 youth election project, Getting young people into politics - EUROCITIES, July 2013

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