Viewpoints: Can 16- and-17-year olds be trusted with the vote?

 
Youth Parliament

Sixteen and 17-year-olds may be able to vote in the Scottish independence referendum. But should they?

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Grant Costello

It's not just about capability. Young people rely on public services”

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Grant Costello MSYP, Scottish Youth Parliament (SYP)

Votes at 16 is about accepting 16- and-17-year-olds are smart, rational, articulate people who should be seen as full citizens.

We already accept 16-year-olds are able to make rational long-term decisions because we allow them to work full-time, join the Army, and pay tax. I don't think you can argue young people are able to take the decision to choose to get married or to have children, but are incapable of choosing how to vote.

But it's not just about capability. Young people rely on public services such as transport and schools, but they have no influence over policies which affect their lives - it's no wonder they are disengaged. Lowering the voting age gives these young people the chance to have their say over the society they want to be part of.

Grant Costello

  • Chairs SYP, which says it is designed by young people, led by young people for the benefit of young people
  • Those aged 14-25 represent different areas and voluntary organisations across Scotland

The Scottish Youth Parliament already works with loads of capable, confident and well-informed 16- and-17-year-olds; imagine how many more will be engaged when they all can vote.

Recognising that the important issues equally affect young people, acknowledging they are capable of making decisions, and encouraging them to be part of society - those are the reasons why 16- and 17-year-olds should be allowed to vote.

Grant Costello can be followed on Twitter @GrantDCostello

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Philip Cowley

It's a bizarre way to reinvigorate democracy”

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Philip Cowley, University of Nottingham

Many of the arguments for lowering the voting age are factually wrong.

It is, for example, not true that you can "die for your country but not vote". Those under 18 are not allowed on frontline service.

We also only allow under-18s to join the armed forces with parental permission, because we don't think them old enough to make that judgement alone. Ditto (in England and Wales) for marriage, which under the age of 18 requires parental permission.

So if we're looking for comparisons, then if there is an age at which people are considered "adult" by the state - by which we mean the age at which we allow them to do things, without requiring parental consent and entirely of their own choosing - then that age is more often 18 than 16.

Philip Cowley

  • Professor of parliamentary government at University of Nottingham
  • On government's Youth Citizenship Commission that reported in 2009

When the Hansard Society examined public faith and understanding in the constitution they found just one area where the majority of people said they understood the issue and approved of the current position: and that was having a voting age of 18.

It's a bizarre way to reinvigorate democracy: Find the only issue where a majority both understand and agree, and then do the exact opposite. Polls of those below 18 don't find any great support for lowering to 16 either.

Philip Cowley can be followed on Twitter @philipjcowley

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Ben Page

Most 18 to 24-year-olds don't vote”

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Ben Page, Ipsos Mori

We asked 11-18-year-olds a few years ago whether they thought the voting age should be reduced and actually only half of them thought it should be reduced to 16.

Turnouts are so low amongst 18 to 24-year-olds that just giving votes to 16 and 17-year-olds is unlikely to make a major difference. Most 18 to 24-year-olds don't vote in general elections, they either aren't registered or they don't turn out so their effect is much less than older people.

Eighteen-year-olds try out the vote and then turnout goes down slightly amongst 19 and 20-year-olds. They say it didn't necessarily change as much as they might have liked.

Overall it's the one part of the constitution that most people say they support, having the vote at 18.

Ben Page

  • Chief executive of Ipsos Mori, writer and speaker on leadership and performance management

In our most recent polling we saw actually it's the 25-34-year-olds, who were teenagers when the movie Braveheart came out in the mid-1990s, who are most enthusiastic about independence for Scotland and not the 18-24-year-olds."

Ben Page can be followed on Twitter @benatipsosmori

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Inaki Sagarzazu

Lowering the voting age could re-ignite the interest of the young in politics”

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Professor Vernon Bogdanor, King's College, London

The Scottish Parliament, which has an SNP majority, is likely to give 16-year-olds the vote since it is SNP policy that the franchise should be lowered to 16 for all elections and referendums.

I personally am in favour of votes at 16. It is true that turnout tends to be lower amongst younger voters.

In the 2005 general election, just 44% of 18-24 year olds voted. But those over 16 are subject to tax, employment, and marriage laws as well as the criminal law. In addition, 16-year-olds are at school and may acquire the habit of voting from their civics or citizenship lessons.

By the time they reach 18, many will have left school and forgotten their lessons. So lowering the voting age could reignite the interest of the young in politics.

Vernon Bogdanor

  • Research professor at the Institute for Contemporary British History
  • Written widely on government and politics

But if the franchise is to be lowered, it should be for all elections and not selectively. It should be done after a full debate in Parliament and the country.

Lowering the voting age for the Scottish referendum could endanger the legitimacy of the outcome. If the referendum is won or lost on a narrow majority and survey evidence seems to indicate that the balance was swung by 16- and 17-year-olds, the losers may refuse to accept the result.

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Inaki Sagarzazu

These initiatives are plainly symbolic”

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Dr Inaki Sagarzazu, University of Glasgow

Lowering the age of voting beyond 18 years has been a new trend brought about by what it seems to be an increased political engagement of the under 18 population. Several countries in Latin America have either lowered the voting age or attempted to do so in recent years.

However, with the typical lower participation rate of the younger population it begs the question of what are the motivations behind the implementation of these changes?

Research on voter turnout has consistently found, across different countries and systems of government, that participation at the lower age range is much lower than the average turnout rate.

This means that despite what seems to be an active youth engagement in political activities the reality is that the younger generations vote less.

Inaki Sagarzazu

  • Lecturer in comparative politics at University of Glasgow

This lower participation is tied to an electorate that is on average less interested in politics than older cohorts. However, despite this reality governments in Latin America - and other regions - are actively promoting the reduction of the voting age population to under 18's.

Rafael Correa in Ecuador, Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Christina Kirchner are amongst the leaders promoting these initiatives. It seems that given the evidence against any significant participatory rate amongst the younger electorate these initiatives are plainly symbolic.

 

Comments

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  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 660.

    Why this obsession with giving people rights which the majority of those affected haven't actually asked for? Surely if 16-17 years olds were really keen for the right to vote there would a lot more of them out lobbying for it. Otherwise, it's probably safe to assume most of them couldn't care less.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 659.

    I would in hindsight not have trusted myself when I was 16 or even 18 years old with the politics of the country.

    I am now 49 years old and the hindsight that my age gives me would prefer the minimum voting age to be raised to 21.

    If not that, then all voters should be required to pass an exam to demonstrate a minimum level of knowledge of politics, economics, science and engineering.

  • rate this
    +24

    Comment number 658.

    I find it funny when people say that 16-17 year olds are uninformed, or politics doesn't affect them. I know a lot of middle aged people and pensioners who are uninformed and probably shouldn't vote.

    Surely a better system is to abandon the age based system, and have a short test on politics before being allowed to vote, thus ensuring that people who do vote are making an informed decision.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 657.

    No they should not be given the vote they will only try to buy sweets with it.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 656.

    I agree with 648. von paulus
    Studies show that being better looking than a rival or having a nice hairstyle wins votes.
    Some adults are so ill informed about what’s really important and know so little about politics that they shouldn’t be allowed to vote. It should not be about age. But that is a hard thing to say in a democracy.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 655.

    If they can be trusted to pay tax and be blocked from higher education by the deliberate imposition of prohibitively high fees then they can vote.

    But the cynic in me thinks the government of the day will weigh up the possible benefit/cost of such a change in the law before considering it further, democracy as always will be the furthest thing from their minds.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 654.

    Political engagement amongst 18-24 year olds has declined because few of those have set up family relationships. After all, the age at which women have their first child has risen from 19 in 1961 to age 30 nowadays. So it's hardly surprising that most of the under 24s don't take public policy issues seriously.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 653.

    The arguments for and against this are purely ideological. Whether or not they are allowed to vote will make barely any difference to the result.

    FPTP, the population demographics, and low youth voter turnout will ensure that any teen voting trend is irrelevant at any rate.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 652.

    638.Wideboy
    Just because you think you how the system works, does mean you know about technology, just looked at Labours 12Bn failed IT NHS system, i bet a 16 year old geek would have got it working

    =>I think you'll find it was utterly inept project leadership,management, useless specification. IT outfits and their "consultants" will run circles round gov ministers + civil servants.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 651.

    At 16, the majority of people don't have sufficient life experience to exercise sound judgement when voting for those who are going to rule our lives. When I was 18, I thought I knew it all, and the country's political direction was obvious. Only as I reached the age of about 25 did I finally begin to see the political world more clearly, and realise that many of my previous ideas had been wrong.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 650.

    638.Wideboy
    ''Just because you think you how the system works, does mean you know about technology, just looked at Labours 12Bn failed IT NHS system, i bet a 16 year old geek would have got it working.'


    600 16 year old geeks,perhaps

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 649.

    The majority of people who are voting age in Britain are perpetually child-minded anyway, so I don't think it'll make much of a difference. You could argue that 16-17's won't vote responsibly, but who does? Most people vote with bias, so given that out of all the people who can vote it is the 16 year olds that will have to live with the outcome the longest, it is only fair that they get a say.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 648.

    I wonder what it would be like if there was no age limit to voting and you just had to pass a competency test to demonstrate that you had some sort of knowledge or understanding; like you do with driving. I wonder what it would be like if the same were applied to being a parent!

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 647.

    iThey can vote, but for many it will probably never be their vote, at that age, peer pressure would be too great.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 646.

    643.Wideboy - "......who caused this mess by overspending for 10 years... yep Gordon Brown...."


    STILL touting that LIE are we?

    As you know full well, 80% of the debt inherited by the Coalition came form bailing out the banks - a move both Coalition parties supported.....

    ....with most of the rest of that debt coming from the Tories desperate attempts to stave off Black Wednesday.....

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 645.

    What about all those politically informed Scottish fifteen-year-olds that are missing out? Shouldn't they be allowed to vote if the BBFC deems them old enough to legally watch Braveheart? Disgusting.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 644.

    If you give the vote to 16/17 year olds, they will be faced with the vexed question of whether it should be given to 14/15 year olds. After all the same arguments apply. Ultimately you'd be faced with the question of special voting booths for those who could only get to the polling station in pushchairs and prams.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 643.

    224.Rebecca Riot
    Lowering the voting age could wipe out the Conservative Party

    The young folk can see quite clearly who is doing all of the damage
    ==
    16 year olds would vote Labour because they are too young to remember who caused this mess by overspending for 10 years... yep Gordon Brown
    Hopfully they will know simple maths if you go overdrawn you have to pay it back.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 642.

    The SNP are pushing for 16-17 age group vote for the Scottish Independence Referendum simply because they are anticipating getting the bulk of votes cast by that age group. I wonder if the SNP would have been so keen if it was anticipated that the 16-17 were going to vote to remain in the UK - I think not..
    This is a typical cynical ploy that one has come to expect from the SNP.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 641.

    599. ommadawn2000
    587.Archie Gemmill_s left foot
    Hmmm, Troll or just theorising ahead of the data? You don't know what action anyone here takes on anything.
    //////
    Considering that nothing ever changes, there are no referendums, demonstrations and barely any petitions and that one of the weakest, most spineless governments gets away with far too much, I think I'll rest my case.

 

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