If you’re 16 in the UK, you can drop out of school, get a job, pay taxes, and even join the army. Yet, in spite of all of this, you cannot vote. Governments with the ability to send people to war, change the rate of tax and change the laws to which we are all subject are not directly accountable to you. They have no democratic obligation to listen to you, nor do they have to worry about you voting them out office in the immediate future.
In the wake of a referendum which has condemned young people (the vast majority of whom wished to remain) to a future outside of the EU, it is important now more than ever before that the voices of 16-18-year-olds are heard. Many feel that there’s only one real and meaningful way that this can be addressed – giving them the ability to vote. But the problem we face is this: young people who already can vote simply do so far less than any other age demographic. And so, with this being the case, why would we want to lower the voting age even further?
Furthermore, those who support the idea of lowering the voting age to 16 point to the Scottish referendum as an example of its resounding success. Some 75% of 16 to 18-year-olds voted, which was a higher percentage than the 18-24 and 25-34 age ranges. However, it’s hard to tell whether or not this was simply a surprising aberration that bucked voting trends, or whether it shows that giving 16-year-olds the vote would lead to consistently higher voter turnout among the young.
Voter disengagement wanes with time, but one way of alleviating this issue would be to make voting mandatory, as it already is in countries like Australia. A less controversial yet arguably more effective solution would be making citizenship classes mandatory from a young age. This would make people realise the significance of engaging with democracy and establishing real change through voting. Not only would this bolster the existing low voting turnout of young adults, but also ensure that those approaching 18 are aware of where they lie politically.
My personal view is that, generally, young people will always be less inclined to vote, simply because many still live with their parents and so tend to be less immediately concerned about big issues like job security and the state of the economy, compared to older economically independent people whose lives may change considerably depending on which party is elected. It’s for these types of reasons that I feel quite sceptical that those my age should really be entitled to vote. That being said, regardless of whether or not you think 16-year-olds should be given suffrage, it’s imperative that they should be politically informed by the time they are adults.
With the incumbent Conservative government opposed to lowering the voting age once more, young people must find alternative ways to make their voice heard in large numbers if they feel they’re entitled to vote. Perhaps then the Government will hear and acknowledge their call.
Originally posted on The New Word.