Should Children have the Vote?

Almost all countries have a minimum voting age of eighteen or older. There are a very few exceptions (sixteen, for instance, in Guernsey, Jersey, the Isle of Man and Scotland – the latter only for independence referendums, Scottish Parliament elections and local authority elections). Interestingly, the UK was one of the earliest to reduce the age to eighteen (in 1970). But now the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens and the SNP want the age to be reduced again to sixteen. I wonder whether that is a good idea.

Various reasons are advanced by politicians for their stances on the minimum voting age. but the reality, of course, is that those who advocate a reduction do so because they calculate it would lead to their getting more votes and those who oppose the reduction (now only the Conservatives) do so because they assume that most children would be likely to vote for left wing parties.

Let us try to put aside considerations of electoral advantage (always difficult for politicians) and look at the other arguments for and against a reduction in the voting age.

The commonest argument in favour of a reduction is that elections decide the futures of sixteen and seventeen year olds and they should therefore be allowed to take part in them. Gordon Brown was one of the first serious politicians to advocate votes at sixteen, though he thought the reform should only take place if all children of sixteen and over were given “citizenship” (code for importance of voting Labour) lessons. Other, more recent, proponents of reform generally tend to argue that once young people become sixteen they have a natural maturity and can be trusted to vote responsibly without teachers telling them where they should put their crosses on ballot papers.

Opponents of a reduction tend to argue that schoolchildren are not usually sufficiently experienced and mature to take part in national elections. They point to the fact that, at least in England (not in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), sixteen and seventeen year olds are now required to be in full time education. So they are not taxpayers and will not enter the real world until they are at least eighteen.

Now, it does have to be said that there is an element of unreality in the arguments on both sides. Many of us who have teenage children find it difficult to picture all those mature sixteen year olds who will give serious thought to how they should vote. On the other hand, being sane and sensible is not a requirement for voters over the age of eighteen. A great many existing voters choose for whom they will vote in a thoroughly irrational way. And, even if our own children are wholly irresponsible and foolish, most of us do know other people’s children who seem to be extraordinarily mature and wise.

My own instinct is that the present arrangements are probably about right. The line has to be drawn somewhere and eighteen strikes me as being a reasonable age for people to start voting. But maybe I am unduly swayed by being the father of three teenagers (though two of them will be able to vote in June – one of them three days after his eighteenth birthday). And perhaps this is a pointless debate (because teenagers probably wouldn’t bother to vote anyway). I will be interested in your views.

Charles

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11 thoughts on “Should Children have the Vote?

  1. If you’re old enough to die for your country, you’re old enough to vote for it.
    The world has decided that sixteen and seventeen year olds are children if they try to be soldiers, so they’re children when they want to be citizens

    Liked by 2 people

    • Dying for your country is a purely physical matter. Can you hold a rifle and fire it where directed?
      Voting is a cerebral issue and calls for much more complex considerations.
      Given the propensity for allegedly intelligent youths to vote left of centre, even when at university, is proof positive that the vote should be withheld until 21 – at least. Experience of life and the reality of earning a living is an essential prerequisite to making a political decision.
      The country should not be held to ransom by naive, inexperienced idealists.

      Liked by 1 person

      • No dying for your country is actually an intensely political question and one that has been on the agenda for at least 2500 years. Should your fellow citizens have the right to send you to your death for their perceived advantage after having a discussion you were not allowed to take part in at any level?

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  2. I agree, Charles, that eighteen is about right, but I was somewhat horrified by the idea of teachers having any part in this. Surely, it up to the parents to guide, indoctrinate or bully their young, by whatever means they see fit, to make sure that they vote, and moreover vote for the party their parents support. Of course this only applies to right thinking people who vote Conservative, but I may be a bit biased.

    Of course this didn’t actually work with my own children, although they were dragged out kicking and screaming to vote if they happened to be at home, but they do seem to have continued to do so, and they assure me that they vote for the right party.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Being half NZ I always look there for guidance. 18. They even give the vote to permanent residents who do not possess citizenship.

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