Bolton School Girls’ Division Newspaper


Should 16-Year Olds be Allowed to Vote?

The current minimum voting age in England is 18 years, but should it be? Does knowledge or intelligence matter when voting? Is class division a worthwhile factor in measuring uneven voting turnout or is a generation gap a more valuable reason? These are a just a few of the emerging questions to explore when thinking about the age at which we should be allowed to vote.

There is a growing debate, particularly following the Brexit vote in 2016, as to whether the minimum voting age should be reduced to 16 years. Further afield, interest in lowering the voting age is increasing around the world, specifically in Canada, New Zealand, Estonia, Malta and Germany to name a few.

Change has already taken place in some parts of the UK. 16 and 17-year-olds in Scotland and Wales and now able to vote in Scottish-only and Welsh-only elections respectively. However, this does not apply in England or Northern Ireland.

The change in Scotland took place some time ago and therefore, allows us to look at voting habits for this age group in a little more detail, providing a useful case study. Scotland lowered its voting age to 16 ahead of the independence referendum in 2014 and for all Scottish elections starting in 2015. These newly enfranchised young people voted in greater numbers than their slightly older peers. It was also evident that social class differences in voting habits were much less obvious among this age group than among older Scottish voters.


YouGov analysis has also shown an interesting age divide in terms of party preferences.

Put simply, younger voters are more likely to vote Labour and older voters are more likely to vote Conservative. It is not, therefore, in the current governing party’s interests to look at lowering the voting age!

So what are the arguments for and against changing the minimum voting age?


  • If 16-year-olds are allowed to vote, there is a higher likelihood of positive voting habits being formed, which, evidence shows from political scientists, is then likely to last a lifetime.
  • 16-year-olds would also be voters who are less likely to be moving away from their town, as a result of attending sixth form/college. For this reason, they have stronger roots in their community (often having lived in the same area since birth) and have connections to local schools, friends, family and other community groups. If people under 18 cannot vote, their awareness and appreciation of local issues would be less represented at both a local and national level.
  • Similarly, 16 to 18-year-olds are more likely to vote if they are still living at home with parents that vote. By waiting until 18 years, many may then live with other young people who do not vote, meaning that, in turn, they are less likely to vote.
  • It seems to me that 16-year-olds are seen as adults in many respects and are active members of society (for example, they can leave home, get married, get a full time job, apply for a passport, join the army, volunteer, consent to own medical treatment etc). They can also be burdened with adult responsibilities through no fault of their own (for instance, they may have to make significant financial contributions to keep their family afloat and/or can be primary carers). I am certain that, because of this, young people have adult responsibilities yet are denied the same rights as adults. Is this fair? People with this viewpoint believe that natural justice requires that 16-year-olds should be able to vote in elections that could influence their lives in such an irreparable way; they absolutely should have more of a say in their future.
  • It could also be said that allowing 16-year-olds to vote would be a potential solution to the problem of youth disengagement. Everyone can agree that young adults have a right to be heard, whereas disenfranchising young people, by refusing them the vote, implies that they don’t have anything of political value to add to society. Likewise, some may say that this gives politicians permission to ignore young people’s interests, as there is no way they can hold them accountable (they can’t vote for certain laws to be passed). In truth, important issues like environmental degradation, public education policies, corporal punishment laws and poverty impact young people more than anyone else.
  • In the same way, young people are better in tune with modern issues around internet privacy and social media use. So, it may be argued that, if young people are underrepresented in politics, issues like these may be ignored or not handled as well. Conversely, if 16-year-olds can vote, politicians will have more of an incentive to act on what young people put forward as vital issues, as it directly affects whether they stay in power or not
  • Linked to the above point, the recent Brexit referendum voting trends provide a useful illustration of why young people should have more of a say in their future. 73% of people aged between 18 and 24 voted to Remain in the European Union, compared with just 40% of people aged over 65.

Assuming 16 to 18-year-olds would have been more in line with 18 to 24-year-olds, this would have undoubtedly made a difference to the outcome of the referendum. As it stands, it can justifiably be argued that the older generations have bound the younger generations to a future that they clearly did not want or choose.



Impact of denying 16 year olds the right to vote:

Assuming 16 to 18-year-olds would have been more in line with 18 to 24-year-olds, this would have undoubtedly made a difference to the outcome of the recent referendum on leaving the EU. As it stands, it can justifiably be argued that the older generations have bound the younger generations to a future that they clearly did not want or choose.

Interestingly, knowledge, experience and independence of thought are not criteria for voting eligibility, so why are these arguments used against giving the vote to 16-year-olds if there are no wrong votes? This argument is contradictory, as young people are capable of incredible intelligence and accomplishment; they have the ability to win a Nobel Peace Prize (Malala Yousafzai aged 17), conduct cancer research and can even teach a graduate level course in physics! So, if 16-year-olds are capable of such amazing feats, certainly they have the capacity to vote? 


Without doubt, no advocate for lowering voting age believes that young people will always vote intelligently, especially since not everyone can agree what that means (and for which the same can be said about adults!). Therefore, why are young people held up to a higher standard than everyone else?


Yet Arguments AGAINST Votes for 16 year olds remain:

  • ·     Age of adulthood: in reality, we are not really adults until we reach 18 years. We cannot drive, drink alcohol, or obtain a mortgage and so some may believe that they should not be allowed to vote until then. Moreover, arguably 16-year-olds do not have enough experience of life, of the world and of the issues addressed in political manifestos to be able to make a viable choice when voting. In fact, it could be said that, if there remain some activities which officially require parental consent for 16-year-olds, then 16-year-olds can still be under the direct influence of their parents/carers.
  • ·         For these reasons, some may believe that it is not possible to guarantee that 16-year-olds would be making an independent choice when voting. Similarly, 16-year-olds could be manipulated into voting how adults with a position of power tell them to, thus leading elections to have a higher chance of being less representative. On the other hand, others may say that there are adults who can also be easily manipulated into voting a certain way, which weakens the validity of this argument.
  • ·         Turnout: is there enough evidence to suggest that 16 to 18-year-olds will actually vote? This is worrying as a low turnout in this age group could result in the overall percentage turnout declining. For instance, 18 to 24-year-olds have repeatedly recorded the lowest turnout rates. In the 2015 General Election, only 43% of this age group turned out to vote, compared with 78% of over 65s.
  • ·         In addition, it may be said that this meagre turnout of young people voting is not only a problem for democracy but, could intrinsically link with the fact that studies have shown, in general, young people have a very low interest in and knowledge of politics. It has been made abundantly clear, with evidence from a 2010 case study of 36 countries, that, alarmingly, school students in England have one of the largest gaps in political understanding, topped only by Bulgaria! This may be a prominent factor for the uneven turnout in voting amongst young people. However, a new study shows that, in Scotland, young people aged 16-31 who recalled taking a course where political issues were discussed were more likely to vote. Clearly, England is in vital need of well-informed civic education in the classroom. In support of this, research shows that students who engage with social and political issues through civic education are more likely to vote. In short, without a high-quality civic education, it could be asked are 16 year-olds able to cast a meaningful vote?


It therefore seems that in order to answer the question of whether 16-year-olds should be able to vote, the prevalent problem of everyone in society having access to civic education needs to be tackled first.

Local authorities decide on the nature and extent of the delivery of civic education, but what this undoubtedly means is that there is a postcode lottery for young people; this results in young people not receiving the support and guidance on voting that they desperately need. I have to say that this is only made worse by the fact that, in today’s society, resources for schools are already constrained leaving schools not being able to afford to dedicate time to civic education.

Healthy democracy needs the habit of voting to stick equally for all young people of diverse backgrounds, otherwise young people may feel increasingly alienated in a society that shapes their lives for them rather than with them.  The time has come for basic political knowledge about the different parties and voting system to be included in the curriculum so that 16-year-olds may be more likely to cast a more “meaningful” vote (however you wish to define that!).

By Isabelle Martin


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