Disclaimer: This is an opinion piece. Please don’t take my word for everything I say. You can disagree with it. Anyone can.
These are some of the points I often hear when discussing votes at 16.
- “It’ll reduce alienation among the youth”
- “It’ll increase turnout”
- “Citizenship classes are compulsory in the UK so people are informed enough to vote at 16”
Today I’ll be writing about why I refute these claims and why granting 16 year olds the right to vote largely speaking is not something which should happen.
1. Most young people who are ‘alienated’ with politics either lack knowledge on the subject or simply unfairly hold politicians to account for shortcomings they see.
I, for one, am definitely not disillusioned. I recognise that institutions such as the youth parliament are put in place for teenagers who want (and are given) a voice. If you’re like any normal kid in the western world, google is always by your side if you want to query something.Virtually every region in the UK has a youth wing of a party. So when I hear people tell me that there is no way they can make a difference unless they can vote I sigh. It’s simply not true. Also, I (take note of the personal pronoun, this is MY opinion) feel that a lot people my age simply grumble about inept politicians without even understanding the role they play. If you’re a homeless 50 year man with a disability who’s not being rehabilitated then I understand your frustration with the system. Time and time again it has failed you. But if you’re say, a 16 year old who laments the failure of a politician to reduce alcoholism in a borough while that same 16 year old is too young to have even been allowed to drink the substance, then you begin to realise that person best be old enough to know what he’s dealing with. The point I’m making is how effectively can people critique something without even understanding its effects? And I don’t think they can do so well enough to warrant getting voting rights. Most nations agree that 18 is when you turn an adult. I firmly believe that only once you feel the effects of the system can you accurately grasp how you want it to change. Anything less that that is dabbling with hypotheticals you cannot predict.
2. In all previous general elections, it has been the youngest age group which tends to produce the lowest turnout.
So there goes the myth that us teenagers are impatiently brimming with enthusiasm to vote. It’s clear that collectively we do not add any extra energy to an already lethargic process. The argument that the youth are the most passionate when it comes to politics is sadly not one rooted in logic nor evidence. I wish it was the case, but it is only this small yet vocal minority that has effectively ignited the votes at 16 debate. The recent Scottish referendum bucks the trend but that’s simply because once something is inaugurated it’s vogue reaches its peak (Just like 3D cinema, who even finds that good now?) and after that, there is no reason not to believe that 16 and 17 year olds would also conform to the “younger you are, the less likely you are to vote” trend that has stayed constant throughout our democracy. That’s some evidence for you.
3. If your primary source of knowledge when it comes to politics is just your citizenship and not first hand experience, it’s hard to convince someone you are well poised to vote.
I’m going to recycle parts of my initial point, but I feel it holds true here as well. I like that some people my age have opinions on big issues they do not even yet have to face, it’s good be conscious of them. The qualm I have however is being allowed to vote them, for example, repealing a law you’ve never seen the effects of. Citizenship classes aim to to put a band aid on abyss of knowledge yet to be filled. There’s also the question of simply reflecting the views of the teacher. Basically indoctrination. Citizenship classes should be treated like any other subject. To give this class the significance it would get if 16 and 17 year olds could vote is not only outlandish, but a pressure on the teacher because it gives them a responsibility which would entail helping students how they should vote. I can’t be the only which thinks this is unreasonable.
Come under no illusion, only once you reap the effects of something are you in a steady and fair place to influence its future. That, coupled with the lack of maturity and enthusiasm of our youth is why I’m not fully convinced we should get the vote.
But I’m open to alternate opinions. Let me know what you think in the comments below!
11 Comments Add yours
I’m particularly interested in your point that there is simply a lack of knowledge and votes may turn out to be harmful – in terms of hypotheticals, a less politically-aware 16-17 year old might vote for the candidate they see as most impressive, handsome or outwardly appealing without bothering to digest their policies fully. This can lead to misinformed voting, which harms the system – an extreme case would be the tallest/best-looking/ best public speaker candidate winning votes from the young.
I, in the US atleast, feel like there’s sort of a problem with certain parties taking advantage of young voters. For instance when it comes to points of gay rights, I feel like parties who support it emphasize it strongly to get youth votes and then quietly sneak in their economic policies or whatever their actually trying to push. that mixed with immigrants gaining citizenship is going to lead to more uninformed voters just voting for whatever’s hip or whatever may help them personally without paying attention to the other policies being pushed and it’s going to create a self enlarging pit of power
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Precisely why lowering the voting age further to 16/17 would do a lot more harm than good. The points you bring up are really interesting.
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True. It’s basically tokenism.
As opposed to the most competent candidate, that is to say
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You’re certainly right that younger voters might make poor/uninformed political decisions, but many (most?) adults are probably guilty of that too. The problem isn’t with age, it’s with qualification. Of course, older people have more experience, and so are viewed as naturally more likely to be informed, mature, etc, so we have the age limit. This is basically the younger people saying “we’re just as qualified!” I’m sure many of them are, but how many more wouldn’t be? Can’t we say the same for adults? And what does it mean to be “qualified”? It’s a tricky situation.
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This is such an interesting discussion. I agree with Freebird that there are plenty of adults (here in the US anyway) who make poor/uninformed political decisions. They are swayed to vote against their own interests by wedge issues and propaganda. So it does seem to be a matter of qualification versus age. Many young voters, even at 18, don’t bother learning about important issues and I imagine that 16 year-olds wouldn’t be any more engaged. However, there are issues that young people should and do care about – global climate change, chemicals in the food supply, cost of education, and a world that seems fixated on war (in which THEY will serve and potentially lose their lives). This is the world they’ll inherit. Educating voters is actually easier to do with young people who are in school than older people who vote their biases and make decisions based on misinformation. Thanks for the interesting post.
You make some great points. Thanks for posting!
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Citizenship classes ? This must be something new as I’ve never heard of them. The problem is not age, you can be held criminally responsible at the age of 10 as you are apparently aware of cause and effect and right and wrong.
The issue is purely one of education and potential bias. I don’t just mean education in government and politics but also the teaching of history. History is our experience, it is our struggles, our failures, our improvements and it shapes our future.
History shows what direction political parties will take ( despite election rhetoric), it shows who benefits and who loses from government policies and it shows whether society is improving for the masses or for the few.
It is no mistake that neither recent history (post industrial revolution) nor the workings of government are taught in school but a deliberate ploy to keep people uninformed. Unaware of what political parties have done in the past and therefore unaware of what they will do in the future regardless of what they may say at election time.
How many youngsters have been taught about workhouses ?, about the number of people killed in industrial accidents during the “golden Era ” of British Industry ? About the prevalence of disease and poverty and death right up until the 1950’s ? or about Britain’s role in shaping other country’s views of us ?
Keeping “young adults” uninformed is good for the status quo, after all they can learn all they really need to know about life from TOWIE and Big Brother.
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That has to change! Maybe then votes at 16 could be considered more seriously.