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Votes for children! Why we should lower the voting age to six | Politics

Tright here is not any good cause to exclude youngsters from the proper to vote. Certainly, I consider there’s a robust case for decreasing the voting age to six, successfully extending the franchise to any little one in full-time training. When I’ve made this case, as I’ve completed lately in a wide range of completely different boards, I’m at all times struck by the response I get. It’s incredulity. What doable cause may there be to do one thing so seemingly reckless and foolhardy? Most audiences recognise that our democracy is rising fractious, pissed off and irritating. Our political divisions are large and our establishments appear ill-equipped to deal with them. However nothing absolutely may justify permitting youngsters to take part. Wouldn’t it merely make every little thing worse?

It could not. Actually, it would make issues higher. However to perceive why, we first want to perceive the nature of the issues our democracy faces, and specifically, the generational divide that has develop into an more and more vital consider politics over latest a long time.

Reconstruction after Covid

We’ve by no means been extra divided. And but we have by no means had extra in frequent. Britain, like different western democracies, is cut up down the center on most of the huge political questions. Brexiteers sq. up towards remainers. The north opposes the south. It’s the metropolis v the countryside. Graduates confront non-graduates. However at the similar time, we more and more share a single body of reference. We watch the similar TV reveals, circle spherical the similar subjects of dialog and obsess over the similar celebrities. When Oprah interviewed Harry and Meghan, responses to what they mentioned had been conditioned by political tribalism. Inform me the way you voted in the Brexit referendum and I’d have a good suggestion of whether or not you had been workforce Meghan or workforce Kate. Nonetheless, we all tuned in collectively. And when it was broadcast, we had been all underneath lockdown collectively.

The contours of this new panorama – politically divided, socially linked – are most stark when it comes to intergenerational battle. If the franchise at the 2019 UK common election had been restricted to the under-30s, Jeremy Corbyn would have won the greatest landslide in Labour’s historical past. If it had been restricted to the over-60s, the Tories would have gained nearly each seat in the land. The previous and the younger have develop into two separate political nations. However they don’t seem to be, as Disraeli as soon as mentioned of the wealthy and the poor, “two nations between whom there is no such thing as a intercourse and no sympathy, who’re as blind to one another’s habits, ideas and emotions, as in the event that they had been dwellers in numerous zones, or inhabitants of various planets”. Younger and previous work together at nearly each stage of their lives. Household life is constructed on that interplay. Removed from inhabiting separate planets, the completely different generations typically inhabit the similar properties.

In fact, households may be locations of deep antagonism, too, particularly when younger and previous are compelled collectively underneath one roof. No society has ever been freed from intergenerational battle. What makes our society completely different is that the generations diverge so profoundly over politics whereas coming collectively over a lot else. Once I was a toddler in the Seventies, pop music was primarily for the younger. Older generations had been extra doubtless to hear to classical music, or huge bands, or present tunes. Youngsters swore, however not in entrance of their dad and mom. Their dad and mom swore, however not in entrance of the youngsters. Younger folks wore denims, however their grandparents didn’t. They nonetheless wore jackets and ties, or skirts and clothes. When the climate acquired hotter, the younger would strip off, however that was a privilege of youth. The previous had to sweat it out. Go to any excessive road now on a sizzling summer season’s day and rely the males in shorts, no matter age. The sixtysomethings will typically be dressed like the youngsters.

What, then, explains the widening political divide that lies behind our rising social conformity? The reply is a mix of demography and geography. Ours are actually quickly ageing societies by which older voters have come to outnumber the younger. That is the case throughout Europe, in the US and more and more in Asia, too. The normal dynamic of intergenerational battle was that even when the older generations had the wealth and the energy, the younger had the numbers. In all democratic societies, from historic Athens to Seventies Britain, there have been many extra voters underneath 40 than over 60. That’s not the case. Our rising social conformity will not be just because the previous are aping the habits of the younger. It’s as a result of in any society the place the middle-aged and aged are the dominant financial and political blocs, their pursuits predominate. Pop music used to be for the younger as a result of that’s the place the market was. Now it’s folks like me who’re being catered for (I’m 54). It’s my 12-year-old son who’s discovering himself listening to the music of my youth, not the different approach spherical.

Preschoolers vote in Lausanne during a practice run at the country’s direct democratic system.
Preschoolers vote in Lausanne, Switzerland, throughout a observe run at the nation’s direct democratic system. {Photograph}: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Photos

The explanation that the consequence of the 2019 common election looked more like the map of an aged political nation than a youthful one is straightforward weight of numbers. The over-65s, who at the daybreak of recent mass democracy 100 years in the past made up barely 5% of the citizens, are actually closer to 20%. What’s extra, older voters have a tendency to prove in far larger numbers than the younger. The standard lament of progressive politicians was that if solely folks of their 20s voted with the similar dedication as folks of their 70s, they may tip the stability. It was assumed that elections stored going towards youthful voters’ pursuits as a result of they failed to present up at the polls. Now it’s as believable to argue that they fail to present up as a result of elections hold going towards their pursuits. Why hassle if the system is stacked towards you?

This impact has been exacerbated by geographical motion, which congregates important numbers of youthful voters in cities and college cities, the place they relocate for work and training. The concerted enlargement of upper training from the Nineteen Eighties onwards has led to a large-scale migration of these of their late teenagers and early 20s from their dwelling cities, typically by no means to return. The locations they go to – Brighton or Bristol, Canterbury or Cambridge – have develop into way more doubtless to return Labour MPs, as a result of there the younger can tip the stability. However as their votes pile up in densely populated metropolitan areas, the locations they go away behind have began returning Conservative MPs in ever-greater numbers. The “crimson wall” seats that turned blue in 2019 have been left behind on this sense not less than: the common age of their constituents is way larger that it was earlier than so many college students departed.

There may be now a set of vicious circles at work. As soon as politicians representing older voters begin successful elections repeatedly, the younger are discouraged from voting, which solely makes the political imbalance worse. If younger folks pursue social mobility by transferring to locations the place different younger persons are, they improve the probability that older voters will dominate electoral outcomes in every single place else. The end result can be governments and insurance policies that work towards the kinds of social mobility that youthful voters have a tendency to favour. This has been the sample in Britain for the finest a part of a technology. Pensions will get protected whereas scholar debt goes unaddressed. The pursuits of mortgage payers can be prioritised over the pursuits of renters. A rustic by which greater than 70% of the under-30s voted to stay in the EU will nonetheless select to go away. As soon as the previous outnumber the younger, the political divisions between them will develop. Even when everyone seems to be watching Bridgerton.


When the pandemic arrived, it briefly appeared likeas if these generational divisions could be considerably healed. All of us confronted a typical enemy. The lockdown guidelines utilized to everybody, and the expertise of being caught at dwelling generated a complete new set of frequent reference factors. Griping about Zoom – for work, for household calls, for something – grew to become a behavior for younger and previous alike. Being cooped up, getting used to sporting masks, attempting to perceive the new guidelines – these had been all issues we endured in frequent, with the similar dates in our calendars and the similar sense of disappointment as they got here and went with out clear decision. Our social connectedness has by no means been extra vividly on show than when we went into enforced isolation from one another.

However this sense of connection merely hid a extra acquainted sample. In a society the place demography and geography are widening the political divisions between the generations, the pandemic has completed nothing to bridge them. It has made them worse. The worst penalties of the virus are very inconsistently distributed. The possibilities of dying from Covid-19 are vastly better for the over-70s than the under-30s. That in fact is why the previous have been prioritised all through: for safety, for remedy, for vaccination. Neither politicians nor the public have had a lot alternative about this: the profile of the illness meant there was no different possibility.

On this, the results of Covid-19 are a part of a longstanding pattern. As the inhabitants ages, healthcare turns into an increasing number of of a political precedence. Older folks have a better want for it, and the working inhabitants is required to pay for it. As a result of older folks decide the outcomes of elections, politicians do every little thing of their energy to keep this equation. The totemic standing of the NHS all through its existence conceals a profound shift in its main function. When it was based in 1948, its precedence was toddler well being, in a society by which toddler mortality was high, childhood ailments had been nonetheless rife and kids made up a far larger proportion of the total inhabitants. Now the NHS is required to give attention to aged folks, and their pursuits come first. Covid has not skewed our political priorities when it comes to well being. It has merely revealed them.

Schoolchildren take part in a nationwide student climate march in in Glasgow in 2019.
Schoolchildren rally in Glasgow in 2019 as a part of a nationwide scholar local weather march. {Photograph}: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Photos

The pandemic has highlighted generational imbalances with out doing something to resolve them. Politicians speak about rewarding the younger for the sacrifices they’ve made, however our political system does little to incentivise politicians to flip these phrases into actions. The younger can plausibly declare that democracy presently discriminates towards them in additional methods than one. Not solely are their votes often outweighed, however their representatives are hardly ever from their very own technology. The typical age of members of the Home of Commons has barely modified in a century: it strikes up and down from parliament to parliament, however by no means far-off from 50. It’s at present 51, roughly the place it was after the first world conflict. It’s true that there are extra MPs of their 20s in the parliament elected in 2019 than ever earlier than. However it is just 21, and nonetheless vastly outnumbered by the 300 MPs of their 50s and 60s, and fewer even that the variety of MPs over 70.

But there may be one other supply of democratic discrimination that’s hardly ever, if ever, mentioned. The explanation the over-60s outnumber the under-40s at the polls will not be as a result of they characterize the next portion of the total inhabitants. They don’t. The median age in the UK is 40.4, which implies there are nearly as many individuals underneath 40 as there are older than that. The over-60s, although way more quite a few than they used to be even a technology in the past, are nonetheless solely a minority of the complete. However democracy doesn’t work like that. There isn’t a cutoff at the prime finish, in order that the over-60s contains the rising variety of folks of their 70s, 80s and above. However we do exclude anybody underneath the age of 18 (or 16 in Scotland) from full democratic citizenship, together with the proper to vote. We do that as a result of that’s the approach it has at all times been.

When it comes to democracy, youngsters don’t rely. Why not?


The arguments towards permitting youngsters to vote at all times begin with the fundamental query of competence. However what which means is that we are making use of requirements to youngsters that we have given up making use of to anybody else. It’s true, in fact, that many youngsters would battle to perceive complicated political questions, particularly youthful youngsters. It’s laborious to envisage a gaggle of six-year-olds getting to grips with fiscal coverage. However many adults additionally battle with complicated political questions, and all of us have huge gaps in our political understanding. (I say this as somebody who research politics for a dwelling, and never as a result of I’ve studied the ignorance of others, however as a result of I’m reminded each day of my very own.) The actual fact is that we don’t apply a check of competence earlier than granting the proper to vote to anybody aside from youngsters. So why begin with them?

Setting imaginary checks earlier than permitting enfranchisement is an primarily Nineteenth-century thought. The premise of the precept of common suffrage that changed it’s that we not consider voting is a proper that belongs to people on the grounds of their competence to train it. As an alternative, it’s a proper that belongs to every of us as a result of we are members of a democratic political group, and could have to reside with the penalties of the choices which can be made by politicians on our behalf. If we undergo the penalties of these choices, we should have a proper to specific a view about who will get to determine. That applies to youngsters simply as a lot as adults.

Maybe, as a substitute, the argument towards letting youngsters vote is much less a principled one than a practical one. Certainly extra adults are doubtless to perceive what’s at stake in an election than a gaggle of schoolchildren. However that relies upon an amazing deal on how we conceive of the teams in query. It’s hanging how typically sceptical audiences bounce to the conclusion that decreasing the voting age to six would imply giving six-year-olds a decisive say in the operating of the nation. That’s absurd: the lower age group can be a small minority of kids total, simply as youngsters would nonetheless be a minority of the total citizens. Older voters in any occasion can at all times outvote the younger. But when we take youngsters in training as a complete, there’s a good likelihood that some teams can be higher knowledgeable than many adults. They’ve the time and the sources to study what’s at stake if they need to. Nobody may be obliged to take an curiosity in politics, however that’s as true of adults as of kids. The distinction is that youngsters at school are higher positioned to make up the gaps of their data.

The query of competence – and the problem of utilizing it as an argument towards extending the vote to youngsters – is very acute in ageing societies comparable to our personal. As the inhabitants ages, so the variety of voters affected by dementia and different types of cognitive decline rises. However we don’t take the vote away from previous folks, and we don’t apply checks of competence to people of their 80s and 90s. Once more, it is extremely hanging how typically I discover that when pressed on this level, audiences will say that fairly than giving votes to youngsters it could be higher – safer? – to disenfranchise aged folks. The Nineteenth-century assumption that we ought to discriminate on grounds of competence has not gone away.

But it could not be higher – actually not safer – to disenfranchise aged folks. As quickly as anybody suggests a programme of mass disenfranchisement, we should at all times ask how it could be completed. By medical doctors? By going into care properties and asking the residents to take a check? By merely arriving at some arbitrary cut-off level, say the age of 80? How would the many actively engaged and very well-informed voters of their 80s take to being instructed that they’ve misplaced the proper to vote as a result of others of their age have been deemed unfit to train it?

There’s a lot to be mentioned for the precept of common suffrage, not least that it sticks to the fundamental democratic thought of 1 individual, one vote. It doesn’t mess around with quotas and competencies and checks. Taking the vote away from aged folks would violate that precept. Giving the vote to youngsters upholds and extends it.


Tlisted below are loads of different arguments which can be made towards permitting youngsters to vote. One among the commonest is that they might merely do what their dad and mom say. In the early years of the twentieth century it was typically mentioned that it could be pointless to give ladies the vote as a result of they might simply do what their husbands say. This was not true, in fact. Ladies had been as able to making their very own decisions as males, they usually typically voted in another way from their husbands. Would youngsters be any much less unbiased? We’d assume that they might be extra vulnerable to parental strain than adults are to spousal strain, however in fact we do not know as a result of we have by no means tried to discover out. Do youngsters comply with their dad and mom’ views on different issues than politics? Typically, however not at all times. Do youngsters ever determine to embrace the reverse of what their dad and mom assume? Not at all times, however typically sufficient.

It appears simply as doubtless that youngsters can be influenced in different methods. Maybe by their grandparents, particularly since many school-age youngsters of working dad and mom spend as a lot time with grandparents as with dad and mom. Maybe by their lecturers, or by their mates, or by their favorite YouTube stars, or by footballers, or by superheroes. So, you would possibly say, I’m admitting that youngsters can be vulnerable to all kinds of exterior pressures. In fact – however so are adults. There may be overwhelming social science proof that each one voters, young and old, educated and uneducated, make their political decisions on the foundation of loyalties, identities and types of peer strain that usually have little or nothing to do with politics, and definitely are far faraway from the political points which can be the focus of high-level debate. We’re all politically tribal in a method or one other. Do we know whether or not six-year-olds would possibly prove to be extra conservative than their dad and mom? We don’t, however there is just one approach to discover out. Allow them to vote.

However shouldn’t youngsters be protected for so long as doable from having to cope with the harsh realities of the grownup world? Shouldn’t we protect them from grownup obligations? These are additionally acquainted arguments, and ones that had been made towards giving votes to ladies: why burden anybody with pointless obligations when the laborious work of taking tough choices may be left to others? Simone de Beauvoir had a transparent response to this line of thought in The Second Intercourse: it’s at all times the folks with energy who say they need to shield others from exercising it. Males say it. Ladies don’t. Colonisers say it. The colonised don’t. Adults say it. Kids don’t. Individuals with out a say don’t need to be protected against the burden of getting a say. They need to expertise it. And as soon as skilled, they don’t need to give it up.

Are youngsters a particular case? It’s typically assumed that getting youngsters concerned in politics would corrupt them as a result of politics is such a nasty enterprise. However I consider the reverse is the case. Bringing politics into colleges wouldn’t make colleges worse. It could make politics higher, exactly as a result of we take the safety of kids critically. Take into account this thought experiment. Consider an grownup political debate: BBC Query Time, for instance, with all its grandstanding and rabble-rousing and howling partisanship. Then consider the same debate, discussing related points, going down in entrance of an viewers of primary-aged schoolchildren, with their lecturers watching on. Would the dialog be worse-tempered? Or would it not be performed higher? Wouldn’t it maybe even be higher knowledgeable?


What’s left of the argument towards letting youngsters vote is extra straightforwardly partisan. Given the competing, age-based electoral maps that divide the UK into the Corbyn/stay nation of the younger and the Johnson/Brexit nation of the previous, extending the franchise on this approach can seem like blatant gerrymandering – a determined approach to reverse Labour’s seemingly grim electoral prospects. Reducing the voting age to 16, which has occurred in Scotland, typically seems to be a bit of bare political engineering. As a result of youthful voters have a tendency to be left-leaning on a variety of points, rising their quantity may very well be anticipated to tip the stability in favour of specific causes. Wouldn’t decreasing the voting age to six be extra of the similar? No. First, as a result of we don’t understand how youngsters would vote: they don’t have a tendency to get polled, so nobody has actually requested them. Second, as a result of large-scale enfranchisements hardly ever have the anticipated impact.

Rear view of group of elementary students raising their hands ready to answer the question.
‘The arguments towards permitting youngsters to vote at all times begin with the fundamental query of competence.’ {Photograph}: BraunS/Getty Photos

Reducing the voting age by two years can be a piecemeal reform that may very well be seen as gerrymandering. The good benefit of decreasing the voting age by 12 years is that it could be far much less predictable. It could be comparable to the different nice enfranchisements, together with working males in the Nineteenth century and girls in the twentieth. These adjustments created alternatives for all political events and required a much more inclusive and imaginative conception of the citizens. In each instances – opposite to expectations – the Conservative occasion found how to broaden its attraction. I’m not saying that will occur on this case. I’m merely saying we don’t know.

Why, then, have an arbitrary age threshold in any respect? Why not make voting a human proper – or perhaps a birthright – and provides the vote to everybody from the first day of their lives to the final? Although some political theorists have argued for this, it falls down on sensible grounds, as a result of infants and young children would wish somebody to train that vote for them. As soon as voting turns into a system of proxies and surrogates, it loses the simplicity and readability of 1 individual, one vote. I do consider in a really fundamental competence threshold, which is the means to specific a choice in the first place. Being in full-time training appears an inexpensive approach of creating that – in case you can go to faculty, you may put a cross towards a field or press a button on a voting machine. Meaning you may vote.

The fitting to vote goes together with having a share in the destiny of a democratic group and having to reside with the penalties of the choices which can be made by these in energy. Kids could have to reside with these penalties longer than anybody. Whether it is argued that they nonetheless don’t share in the lifetime of the group in the similar approach as adults, as a result of they don’t earn, or pay tax, or carry out public service, we should keep in mind that we stopped making these stipulations of enfranchisement a very long time in the past. Adults can vote no matter the taxes they do or don’t pay, of the public companies they do or don’t carry out, of whether or not they’re internet contributors to or internet beneficiaries of the public purse. They’ll vote as a result of we all have issues in frequent that transcend our particular person contributions. We’ve preferences and opinions and hopes and fears. Voting is a method – not the solely approach, and certainly not at all times the simplest, however nonetheless considered one of the most vital – to be heard. Kids deserve the similar.

There may be clear proof that youngsters really feel extra strongly about some questions than older voters. Training ranks extremely as a precedence for younger and previous, however environmental considerations are a far better precedence for the younger. This can be as a result of youthful folks – with a life forward of them – have longer time horizons. Or it could be one thing else: vogue, peer strain, groupthink. It doesn’t matter. Preferences are preferences, pursuits are pursuits, and the incontrovertible fact that they emanate from youngsters doesn’t invalidate them. All preferences should rely. It could be higher for everybody in the event that they did.


Giving youngsters the vote wouldn’t, opposite to many individuals’s expectations, be transformative. Mass enfranchisements hardly ever are. The identical sorts of individuals nonetheless find yourself getting elected, as a result of the incentives for turning into a politician don’t change. As the previous saying goes, if voting actually modified something, they might abolish it. However voting nonetheless issues. I’m not arguing for six-year-olds to be in parliament, which might be revolutionary (and, frankly, somewhat mad). I merely consider that everybody should find a way to participate in the electoral course of, and to have a chance for politicians to ask them what they assume and to take account of what they are saying in establishing their political programmes. Put that approach, it’s a far much less radical thought than it sounds.

Some issues would change. Local weather politics would most likely rise extra quickly up the political agenda. Time horizons for some political choices would possibly alter. Politicians would have a wider vary of views to take into account. I don’t consider that anybody concerned on this newly expanded democracy would develop into a greater individual in consequence. Politics would nonetheless be a cutthroat enterprise. Kids would no extra be improved by collaborating in elections than adults are. This isn’t about giving youngsters a civics lesson – electoral democracy has by no means been about that. Giving youngsters the vote wouldn’t let youngsters management the future – the adults would nonetheless be in cost. Nevertheless it may invigorate our democracy, enhance it, range it, go away it rather less ossified, rather less predictable, rather less stale.

It may also assist bridge the generational divide. In some methods, youngsters do inhabit a distinct planet from the remainder of us. We don’t watch the similar TV programmes as they do, until we don’t have any alternative. The lives of six-year-olds are deeply mysterious to most adults. That could be a massive a part of why democratic politics should not less than be open to their perspective. However at the similar time, youngsters don’t reside aside from older generations. They don’t migrate to locations the place they’ll pursue the lives they need to lead. They’re compelled to coexist with the grownups. Nevertheless a lot they could desire it in any other case, they’ve to hear, if solely as a result of the grownups nonetheless get to name the photographs. Kids discuss to their dad and mom and grandparents, their lecturers and guardians. The adults don’t at all times hear in return, although it could be much better in the event that they did. However the conversations are actual, which is the precondition of democratic politics.

The political theorist John Wall, in his forthcoming e book Give Children the Vote, writes of the enfranchisement of the roughly one-quarter of the inhabitants to whom it’s routinely denied: “It is important to making up to date societies extra democratic. It’s the solely approach to strain political leaders to reply to the lived experiences of all as a substitute of simply a few of the folks. It’s the solely approach to make the franchise totally simply and efficient … It’s not the reply to every little thing. Nevertheless it have to be a part of the resolution. Issues want realigning and that is arguably our greatest hope for doing so. No politics is ever excellent. But when societies need to be really democratic, they want to overcome their engrained biases and embrace the entire human group.”

The pandemic has given a chance to rethink assumptions that we take for granted. Political decisions that will have appeared unimaginable two years in the past have develop into routine. Why, then, does common suffrage stay out of bounds?

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