05 August 2009

Of Course 16 Year Olds Should Get The Vote, But Its More Important That Votes Are Equal

Melissa Suffield (Lucy Beale out of Eastenders) has made a programme on BBC3, advocating votes for 16 year olds.

She mentions the usual stuff about the army and taxes, but as I have argued before, the more powerful argument is how it improves turnout amongst 18-24 year olds.

The Isle Of Man (which gave 16 year olds the vote in 2005) has found that turnout is higher amongst 16-17 year olds than 18-24 year olds and similar to the general population.

My hunch is that 16-17 year olds with have little impact on results. They may favour the Lib Dems and Greens slightly more than older voters but as most votes currently do not affect the result, this will have little impact. It is also very likely that the BNP (whose main voters are over 65) will do worse as younger voters tend to shun them.

No, the main impact of including 16 year olds and 17 year olds on the electoral roll, will be to include people from a younger age in the democratic process.

Those voters who will be 17 years and 11 months in May next year might have to wait until they are 23 before getting a chance to vote in a general election for the first time. By then they are usually lost to the voting process - the turnout amongst these people is 10-15 percent lower than those who got to vote at 18 and the turnout for 18-24 is already a pathetic 37%! Which is probably the main reason why most of my mates don't vote - they all had to wait (as I did) until 23 before getting the chance to vote in a general election (there was a five year gap between 1987 and 1992).

What is more frightening? - That 16 year olds could vote or that they can legally have sex and become parents? Surely we have to end this ridiculous situation? Personally I would lower the age to 14, so no-one has to wait longer than 19 to vote in a general election. Remember how McDonalds was built? Nearly all their advertising is targeted at children and teenagers - get them young and you get them for life. This is one of the ways we will get people to get the voting habit again. The more important change, of course is for parties to become democratic and offer the public more choice - only a proportional system will do that - but the chances of that ever happening are slim in comparision to votes at 16.

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