Should the voting age be dropped to 16? – Sunday’s Debate

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A summary of voting

Lowering the voting age is a debate that can be found since the birth of democracies.  When democracy first started in Britain, it was a privilege for rich, educated men; as it was with most countries. Over time this has changed. In 1969, The Representation of the People Act was signed into law allowing anyone between the ages of 18-21 to vote.

Throughout the world, countries laws on young adults eligibility to vote has varied. The United Arab Emirates has a minimum voting age of 25, while countries like Austria have a voting age of 16. Some can also be compulsory such as Australia, where you must vote or be fined.

In 2014, Scotland lowered their voting age to 16. According to the BBC, ‘extending the franchise to 16 and 17-year-olds during the referendum was widely considered a success in terms of engaging young people in politics.’

Scotland’s actions have led to the voting age debate to become the centre of attention, with the Green Party, Liberal Democrats and Labour party joining together to call for the inclusion of 16-18 year olds during elections.

The first attempts to lower the voting age failed, ‘first rejected by Parliament back in 1999 and again in 2005’ as reported by the Independent. In 2017, Jim McMahon, Labour MP for Oldham West and Royton, proposed lowering the voting age again, but it failed ‘to go to a vote after running out of debating time despite the backing of the other opposition parties’ the Independent reports.

The independent raised an interesting point about how this links with Brexit. ‘With 1.46 million 16 and 17-year-olds in the UK – and with that 82 per cent voting Remain – the number would have matched the 1.2 million differences between Out and In, potentially changing the result completely.’ The referendum will ultimately have a bigger effect on millennials lives than the older generation, yet their voice was unheard in England and Wales. Therefore, should the voting age be lowered as another election or referendum looms?

Written by Max Anderson

Too immature to vote… unless its for Boris – By labour

In light of the latest news that the Conservative party have allowed children as young as 15 to vote for our next Prime Minister, cries of hypocrisy have been rife. The story – broken by The Independent – has resuscitated public discourse on the debate, provoking many MPs to call for fresh consideration of the voting age.

The Conservative party have continually opposed calls to lower the voting age, leading to the failure of a parliamentary vote on the issue in 2017. In fact, David Lidington, MP for Aylesbury, went as far as claiming that under 18s were fundamentally lacking in “maturity and responsibility”; apparently two qualities that all over-18s are blessed with…

However, to unpack this claim that under-18s are simply incapable of making rational and mature decisions, reveals uncomfortable truths about the Conservative party. Surely the move to allow 15-year olds the right to determine our Prime Minister suggests that immaturity and a lack of ‘real-life experience’ are simply prerequisites for voting for Johnson.

Hypocrisy aside, the case for extending voting rights to under-18s is undeniably strong. First of all, enfranchising 16 and 17-year olds is simply recognising the contributions that many young people already make to society.

In a 2012 debate, Labour MP Julie Elliot highlighted the inconsistencies of our present system, listing the many responsibilities that under 18s undertake: “we already allow 16 and 17-year-olds to pay income tax and national insurance, to obtain tax credits and welfare benefits in their own right, to consent to sexual relationships, to get married or enter a civil partnership, to change their name by deed poll, to become a director of a company, to join the armed forces and to become a member of a trade union or co-operative society.”

The Labour MP emphasised the point that many under-18s already hold *very* adult responsibilities, so surely, they should have the right to influence their own present situations. To quote an age-old American slogan, ‘no taxation without representation.’ Votes for under 18s is a question of our very democracy, who could claim that a 17-year old tax payer is any less mature and responsible than a 20-year-old university student benefiting from council tax exemption.

If this argument isn’t strong enough on its own, one must consider another modern problem that allowing under-18s the vote would combat: low turnout and political engagement. Since the 1950s, turnout in UK general elections has since seen a dramatic dip, lowering from 83.9% at its peak in 1950, to 68.7% in 2017. These figures also hide massive fluctuations in age-specific turnout, whereby over 50s tend to be far more likely to vote than younger citizens.

Many suggest that allowing under 18s to vote could be a means of fighting youth political disengagement. A research paper by the University of Vienna suggested that because most under 18s are in education and live with their families, they have been seen to turnout in higher numbers than other age groups, due to the easier access to information and support in such environments. Statistics reinforce this assertion, whereby 75% of 16- and 17-year olds turned out at the Scottish Independence referendum, in contrast to 54% of the 18-24-year-old demographic.  

Adopting Labour’s stance on lowering the voting age would be a move towards strengthening British democracy, a necessary medicine given that the man now residing in number 10 is the will of 0.13% of Britons.

Written by Isabella Jewell

Point of information

Do not assess lowering the voting age on one-off votes. Look deeper and you will see there is little case for it – a Conservative response

I welcome our new editor Miss Jewell to the debate and I am sure we are going to have a wonderful time engaging with each others arguments. However, like her predecessor she has missed the boat on certain issues. The first mistake I must point out is that Miss Jewell writes that one of the key arguments for 16 year olds to vote is due to them already having serious responsibilities. She suggests that one can “get married or enter a civil partnership, join the armed forces.” Firstly, they can only marry with their parent’s permission and with the armed forces they can not serve on the front line. 16 year olds are still under the control of their parents yet should have the same voting rights? This will create a two-tier citizenship which dis-enfranchises young voters, even more than before.

Secondly, Miss Jewell uses the example of the supposed success story of lowering the voting age for the Scottish independence referendum. We must take these figures with a rather large pinch of salt. This vote was a generational one and the issue has been a dominant issue of Scottish politics. It is not surprising that youth turnout was high. The same goes for youth turnout in the EU referendum which was once again a once in a generation vote. You cannot use these examples to decide whether or not we should lower the voting age because they are one-offs. If we look at frequent general elections, you see weak youth turnout and lowering the voting age is not going to change that.

Written by Jack Kane

Great ideas, but they don’t solve the problem. Typical Labour – a Liberal response

I firstly would like to welcome Miss Jewell to Point of information. Her first article was, I must admit, a challenge to reply to and I hope her articles continue in this way. However, as there always is with Labour, there are major concerns with their policies when you actually start to think about it.

I think that Miss Jewell has completely missed the point as to why voting turnout has decreased. She claims that lowering the voting age will solve this problem, but I have my doubts. The reason for low turnout in the last twenty years is a lack of choice. Since Blair, with no fault of his own I must add, there has been a lack of political options for voters. Blair vs Major, Cameron vs Brown and Clegg, Cameron vs Miliband – they are all different sides of the same coin.

The recent interest in younger voters is due to the return of passionate politics in Scotland with the independence vote and the referendum. There have been options, disagreement, debates. As Chantelle Mouffe would say, the political has returned.

Before we lower the voting age, we need to get the public engaged in politics and keep it away from damaging far right populism. As you note Miss Jewell, not all over 18 year olds have ‘maturity and responsibility.’ We need to first make sure our current voters are mature, responsible and have seen the flame of the People’s Will restored to the public before flooding it with more disinterested and bored voters.

The argument for lowering the voting age is not strong; Labour and Liberals just want votes – By conservatives

Is lowering the voting age a ploy by Labour and Liberals? Will allowing 16 year olds the vote create a double standard? Will allowing 16 year olds to vote decrease turnout? These type of questions arise when discussing the idea of lowering the voting age to 16. Yet all these questions share the same answer – yes, and I will explain why.

Many supporters of lowering the voting age argue that 16 year olds can do many responsible things such as join the armed forces and get married. So why aren’t they allowed to vote? If 16 year olds were given the vote we would start to see the arrival of “two-tier citizenship.” This means that voters could be alienated by double standards. In the case of joining the armed forces you can join at 16 but, you cannot serve on the front line and the same goes for wanting to get married. Here you need parental permission to get married under the age of 18. If the law was to change allowing 16 year olds to vote, then they would be given a larger public responsibility, yet they would still be denied independence from their parents. This point also works the other way round. The BBC noted that “16-year-olds are not allowed to sit on juries or serve as magistrates and they are not permitted quite rightly to be sent to adult prisons.” Yet, if 16 year olds were able to vote they could influence who’s in government and that government’s public policy on the judicial system. Here they would be unaccountable to these policies which in my opinion is unfair.

Secondly, as I said in my introduction, lowering the voting age is just a ploy by Labour and the Liberal Democrats to get more voters to elect them into power, as the evidence shows. The Office of National Statistics highlights that there “are 88 out of 650 constituencies where the number of 16 and 17 year olds outnumber the majority held by the sitting MP.” 34 of them are Conservative MPs and they are most vulnerable due to the majority of young people voting for Labour. YouGov shows that the bracket of people who voted most for the Labour party and Liberal Democrats in the 2017 general election was the age group between 18-19 years old. 66% for Labour, 9% for the Liberal Democrats resulting in 75% of the 18 to 19 year olds vote going against the Conservatives. This figure could be even higher in the 16 to 18 bracket allowing more voters for these two parties.

To me this seems like a ploy cooked up by the two oppositions parties in order to get re-elected, when actually the true arguments for lowering the voting age are not strong ones. Furthermore, the only true example for lowering the voting age which has been a success was when 16 year olds voted in the referendum on Scottish independence. However, this was a once in a generation vote on an issue that has been a dominant issue of Scottish politics for years. So it is not surprising that youth turnout was high. However, in England, young voter turnout is weak and I am sure that allowing 16 year olds will do nothing but help weaken youth turnout.

Written by Jack Kane

point of information

Kane the Conservative or Kevin the Teenager? – a Liberal response

Mr Kane’s article is zealous and filled with passion this week as we have come to expect from him in previous articles. However, this week he is more like Kevin the teenager, waving his hands around shouting ‘It’s so unfair’. Is Kevin’s floppy red hair your next look Mr Kane because it would be as baffling and out of place as you appear in this argument. Although this description seems to fit your leader.

Mr Kane at the end of his piece says that allowing 16 year olds to vote in Scotland was ‘a once in a generation vote on an issue that will be a dominant issue of Scottish politics for years to come.’ Well I am glad we can agree that the voting age should have been lowered to 16 for Brexit for England and Wales, due to it being a dominant issue for years to come… And for the imminent election, using your hypocrisy, with an election dominated by Brexit should it again be lowered?

Mr Kane seems more afraid of allowing the younger generations to speak their mind than actually doing something good for the country. Half the argument is built on being scared by the thought of losing seats and their thin majority rather than broadening the representation of this country.

Mr Kane also makes two outrageous claims, only Scotland has seen any success with 16-year-old voters, and that it decreases turnout. He never provides any evidence to back up his claim for the latter and to find another country that has has success I direct you to Isabella Jewell’s piece about Austria.

I had expected more of a challenge from Mr Kane this week, as there as so many stronger arguments to keep the voting age at 18. However, his argument boiled down to a child being forced to sit on the naughty step – rather fitting for a conservative member at the moment.

Written by Max Anderson

Overlooking home truths is a dangerous game – a Labour response

I would like to thank Mr Kane for his impassioned argument against allowing under 18s the right to vote. It is clear, however, that he is deliberately overlooking many inconvenient truths, which once revealed, somewhat undermine his position. Once again, we have a demonstration of the Tory position of ‘for the few, not the many’ – they are happy to bend the rules to their own benefit.

My main problem with Mr Kane’s argument, is the blatant hypocrisy in his cries of injustice that under 18s could possibly ‘influence who’s in government’. Perhaps he was too quick to forget that his own party allowed under-18s – including 15-year olds – the right to determine our Prime Minister. Clearly his issue is not with giving under 18s the vote, but rather giving left wing under-18s the vote. Unfortunately, one cannot control the voting pattern of an entire age demographic – it’s called democracy.

Another issue I take with Mr Kane’s argument is his claim that the opposing arguments cherry pick ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ votes to highlight the pros of allowing under-18s the vote. Given that the Scottish Referendum is the only UK election in which all under-18s had the right to vote, it is impossible to give any other UK examples, of course. Mr Kane has, however, overlooked one of my case studies, that of Austria – his claims of cherry picking seem to lie in his camp… As I argued in my piece, Austrian political scientists have found that under 18s tend to have higher turnout rates than their older counterparts; the paper I quoted also implies that these voting patterns become habitual, thus could increase overall turnout.

Written by Isabella Jewell

Why are we talking about this? We aren’t ready to take this important step – by liberals

Lowering the voting age is one of those policies I sit on the fence for. ‘The Scottish National Party, Liberal Democrats and the Green Party are all on board for reducing the voting age’. Nevertheless, this is a topic in which I find myself not entirely allied to my Liberal counterparts, because I consider us in an electoral crisis.

I do believe we should lower the voting age, but as a nation we are not ready yet, especially due to the involvement of Cambridge Analytica. I deem that we need to focus and reduce the impact that the political consulting firms have on society and the way they change our voting behaviour.

According to Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony to US congress, the firm managed to gain data on ‘87 million people’. That is just from the US. From this, they learnt about user’s personality and political preference, targeting a collection of people who were politically undecided and had a tendency to be more afraid. These people are called the ‘persuadables’ and will be bombarded with adverts to make them afraid of immigrants, certain politicians and the Islamic faith.

It is well known that Cambridge Analytica has been working with several campaign teams, including ‘Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and the Leave.EU campaign

If you are sceptical about Cambridge Analytica’s involvement, let me introduce you to Brittany Kaiser. According to Politico, ‘Brittany Kaiser, the former head of business development at the firm, said that Leave.EU used datasets created by Cambridge Analytica to target voters with online political messages to potentially sway public opinion in 2016’.

In addition to this, she recently provided ‘emails between key Cambridge Analytica, employees of Leave.EU and UKIP’. Kaiser herself sent an email to the Parliamentary enquiry committee noting that ‘chargeable work was completed for UKIP and Leave.EU’.

It is clear that Cambridge Analytica had a major role in the referendum and with the help of Brittney Kaiser there is even more compelling evidence. If you are still undecided, pay attention to the news, to the fear and hatred that has been created in recent years coming up to and after the referendum.

Furthermore, Brittney Kaiser chaired a press conference with Arron Banks, co-founder of Leave.EU. During the conference, they admitted to ‘using vast amounts of data, including consumer histories, lifestyle information… and state-of-the-art psychological analysis’.

I want you to now cast your mind back to when you were 16. How much you changed in the two years that you went from legally being a child to an adult. Think about the influences on your life, the exams you sat. Now imagine the harm that Cambridge Analitica could do dominating your social media day in day out, shaping your beliefs at this tender age.

Cambridge Analytica also shows the lack of political knowledge that the public holds. Our system doesn’t offer enough reward or motivation to learn about politics or question our news source. Why would someone do so with elections every five years. I am not saying the public aren’t educated, I am blaming our electoral system for not encouraging them enough to educate themselves. This needs to be fixed, whether it is by increased elections or Deliberation Day or something similar. It is clear that there needs to be something introduced to help enhance the public’s political understanding and stop the spread of fake news companies and and far-right populist politicians.

Facebook has yet to stop Cambridge Analitica’s antics, and until we can guarantee our children’s safety from this attack doing serious harm to them during their adolescent years, I cannot support lowering the voting age, due to the vulnerable status of our ever-growing youth. Once these concerns above have been addressed, then it is time to let 16-18 join electoral community.

Written by Max Anderson

point of information

The way to fight anti-democratic forces is not to limit democracy – a Labour response

Mr Anderson’s article does raise a number of legitimate and worrying issues that are threatening our democracy – targeted advertising, fake news, ever-growing hatred… These are all blights on society, but they do not just threaten under-18s, they threaten people of all age groups. To claim that under-18s are the only ones vulnerable to fake news and hateful discourse would be to overlook how over-18s have been swayed by such tactics in the EU referendum and subsequent elections.

On the contrary to Mr Anderson, I believe that under-18s may have an advantage in combatting these issues that their older counterparts do not benefit from. If 16- and 17-year olds were to have the vote, at the time of an election most of these young voters would be in an educational institution. I cannot think of a healthier environment to debate ideas, to debunk fake news, and to inform oneself than in a school/ college/ sixth form.  

Whilst I respect and fully understand Mr Anderson’s fears, one cannot deny voting rights due to fears over ‘bad tactics’ or a lack of understanding; it sets a dangerous precedent. Furthermore, it pains me to agree with Mr Kane on the problem of dismissing voters as uninformed – such commentary is deeply unproductive and merely sows the seeds of resentment with which british politics is currently rife. More democracy is not the problem, it is fake news.

written by Isabella Jewell

Mr Anderson simply has no idea what is going on. Time for a lesson – a Conservative response

I am utterly disappointed with Mr Anderson’s article this week. His piece is weak, unclear and outright factually wrong. There is so much contradiction that I feel like I am responding to Vicky Pollard, but at least she backs her convictions.

Mr Anderson rambles on about Cambridge Analytica but clearly his head is stuck on the other side of the pond. The UK has not been affected by the actions of Cambridge Analytica.  An ICO investigation confirmed that “they have found no evidence to suggest that information of Facebook users in the UK was ever shared by Dr Aleksandr Kogan with Cambridge Analytica, or used by its affiliates in the Brexit referendum.” Mr Anderson’s article is clearly designed for the US which is a horrendous mistake. Furthermore, “The report did note that Facebook said only data from US citizens had then been used in political campaigns.” So where is the problem Mr Anderson? I believe its your research.

Mr Anderson’s description of the public clearly is one taking out of Churchill’s book. “The best argument against Democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.” Mr Anderson clearly thinks that voters are bored, dis-enfranchised and aren’t up to scratch to be political. Shame. The EU referendum was a clear example of voters being engaged with politics. What about the protests against President Trump, the record number of petitions being sent to Parliament, and the Extinction rebellion protests? Its clear Mr Anderson is the one dis-enfranchised.

Finally, I leave you with this quote. “I am worried to expose our children to this abuse so early”. So why do you support the right for 16 year olds to vote. Contradiction calamity from Mr Anderson.

Written by Jack Kane

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