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The Case for Lowering the Voting Age: Part 1

This article – and the one to follow – are companions, both addressing the issue of the voting age. More specifically, I am asking what the voting age should be.

In the UK, voting age varies depending upon where you live, and what type of election is taking place. But let’s stick with General Elections, as they have the oldest age requirement, 18 years old. Sir Keir Starmer seemingly wants to see that age lowered, so that 16/17-year-olds can vote. I believe this to be a good idea. I’m certain that over the coming weeks discussions will be had and certain arguments will be well-evidenced. But, there are some caveats people often raise that I’d like to address immediately.

The first is that 16/17-year-olds may not be interested in or engage in politics. As a result, they may abstain from voting; they might as well spoil their ballots. If there is evidence to support this idea, it should be disregarded as irrelevant. Lack of interest and engagement, abstention and spoiling of ballots all occur in the adult electorate. Preventing an age group from voting on these grounds, before many have had a chance to disprove it while allowing others to do so based purely upon age is arbitrary and void.

You may argue that adult members of the electorate would have considered their options carefully, before adopting any of these outlooks or behaviours. But, could you say that this is the case in every instance, if the answer is no, then again, it's arbitrary to disallow a group for something that others do as well. I believe that within a democracy one is entitled to be disinterested, abstain and spoil their ballot. Further disenfranchising people for this is wrong, regardless of age.

I can conceive of an argument, that those young people who are engaged with politics, may disproportionately vote for particular political outlooks. I have two things to say about this. Firstly, regardless of whether this is true, there is no reason to single out young people. Note Tilly’s argument: If history repeats itself, then as people get older they will turn to the Conservatives. Our evidence suggests that this is probably not due to “social ageing” … but rather to the direct psychological processes of ageing that tend to make people more resistant to change. This, in turn, makes people gravitate towards parties that defend the status quo.’

Yes, that does say 2015. Yes, that was nearly ten years ago, and yes things have happened since then that could potentially impact this. However, given YouGov’s claim that ‘only the over-70’s now tend to support the Conservatives, although even here just 39% say they will back the party’, there is still some truth here, despite the reported drop in over-70s support since 2019. Again, it's an arbitrary division between age groups that may well exhibit the same voting behaviour.

If this is insufficient for you, consider my second point. If one's opposition to 16/17-year-olds voting is that they may be more inclined to vote for a particular party, then you are more concerned with winning elections, than with democracy. Is the outcome of an election more important than the principle it embodies? What do we wish democracy to be?

On a more personal note, I have worked with young people in the education sector and alongside them in carrying out charity work. I have seen their brilliance first-hand.

I have seen them give their time and energy and I have been amazed by them. For me to say that people aged 16 and 17 should not have the vote would require me to deny that there are people between those ages who care deeply about the world, and might, if given the opportunity, embrace the chance to vote. If you wish to contest this idea then please do. But, you will also have to contest the brilliance that young people demonstrate.

Admittedly, some people may ask why stop at 16? Why not give the vote to 14-year-olds? Can they not be brilliant? Or what of the ten-year-olds or one-year-olds? Is this choice of age also not an arbitrary decision, the likes of which I discouraged earlier?

Well, I will tell you exactly why stopping at 16 is entirely valid. But for this, you''ll have to wait for the next article.

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