Why the voting age should remain at eighteen

10 Nov 2017


For young activists and enthusiasts, the time between the beginning of your political interest and your eighteenth birthday feels like an eternity. Hence why there has been such a push for the government to lower the voting age from eighteen to sixteen.


The motion is scheduled to be debated on 1 December, and, if the Vote 16 campaigners get their own way, sixteen and seventeen year-olds will have the right to vote in the next general election. This would increase the voting population by 3%, and most of this new voting group would vote for left-wing parties.


Labour are keen to lower the voting age. Is it because they all care deeply and passionately about sixteen year-olds having a say in who becomes prime minister? Probably not. The Labour Party cares so much about Vote 16 because many of the 1.5 million 16-17 year olds in the UK would vote for Labour (providing they bother to vote at all).


It was said after the outcome of the EU referendum that we would have stayed in the EU had sixteen year-olds been given a vote. There was, and still is, an overwhelming sense of injustice among this age group, with an irrational feeling that their lives have been ruined by ‘old people’. Young people tend to have a pessimistic view of the state of the UK and assume that the withdrawal from the EU was some sort of nationalist fantasy. 


The voting age is eighteen because the journey to discovering your political views is a long one. It requires more life experience than just a few citizenship lessons at school and some hubristic tweets from J.K. Rowling and Owen Jones.


These left wing parties know that sixteen year-olds would not vote for the Tories or UKIP. Why? Winston Churchill put it best: 'If a man is not a socialist by the time he is twenty, he has no heart. If he is not a conservative by the time he is forty, he has no brain'.


The reason you’re more likely to become a Conservative voter as you get older comes with achievement. You’ll happily vote Labour while you’re getting on your feet in life, but as you get some qualifications, a place to live with your partner and promotions at work, you start wanting to keep more of what you earn. At some point in your life, it starts to seem unreasonable for parties to argue that your taxes should be used to fund a student through a history of art degree so that tuition fees can be abolished.


Perhaps it is patronising to suggest that sixteen year-olds are, generally, not mature enough to vote, but most of them won’t have even chosen their A-levels, or have any life experience outside of the classroom. It is rare to come across a politically active sixteen year-old whose idea of a perfect society doesn’t include the abolition of the monarchy or redistribution of wealth.


That being said, do I believe that Labour would have won this year’s election had sixteen year-olds been allowed to vote? No, I don’t. Of course there would have been a higher number of Labour votes but still nowhere near enough to win, given voter turnout levels.


Voter turnout is lower among younger age groups. Just 57% of 18-19 year olds voted in the 2017 snap election and it is doubtless that a new 16-17 age group would have had an even lower turnout. Vote 16 would inevitably bring the country’s voter turnout percentage down. Young politics enthusiasts may have a large internet presence, but in reality they are few and far between.


If Labour wants to increase its vote share, it would perhaps be more effective to focus on engaging 18-25 year-olds who don’t vote for Labour, or those who don't even vote at all.




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