Monday, March 19, 2018

Giving Kids the Vote?

I have been hearing stuff lately about whether 16 and 17 year old should vote.  It has come up in both the US and Canadian contexts.  In the aftermath of the activism of the Parkland kids and the protests around the country, it seems like a good idea.  These kids are just so sharp, so passionate, so well organized. 

But to be clear: #notallkids.  That is, we are seeing a very select view, and those of us on the center-left are fans because these kids are pushing for gun control. Would we be so happy if the kids were right wing folks who were pushing for whatever it is that right wing kids would want?

I can't help but think about something that happened at Texas Tech long ago.  When I first got there, anyone who TA'ed had a vote at department meetings, which meant that the grad students had more weight than the junior faculty.  I thought this was pretty cool, as the graduate students could be a voice of reason, and swing towards the more reasonable stances.  I guess I was projecting from my time as a graduate student where I thought I was reasonable (not much self-awareness, I know).  The reality was much different--the evil (and I do mean evil) profs would drink with the students and persuade them to vote for the stances of the evil profs.  A new chair (from outside) came in, and helped to creatively interpret the rules to disenfranchise the students.  The one time in my life I rooted for disenfranchisement (easier to fix than the evil people--although that got partly resolved by one guy leaving and the other dying). 

Of course, that was about a group of folks in their 20s.  But the basic point is this: expecting 16 and 17 year olds to swing your way reliably is probably not a great idea.

What is the difference between 16-17 year olds and 18 year olds?  The law treats them very differently--not just who can vote, but who can fight/be drafted.  Indeed, if I remember correctly (I was very young), one of the big arguments for moving the voting age to 18 was that the US was at the time sending 18 year olds to fight in Vietnam.   There are other legal differences as well--this line between 17 and 18 is fairly deep and wide.

There are other differences as well--either finishing high school or being closed to it, and one might not think much of an additional two years of high school, but that is pretty much half of the experience.  Also, 16/17 year olds are entirely dependent on their parents, whereas those over 18 vary widely but tend to have much more independence and responsibility. 

Two last points:
  • The problem of under-representation of the young in democratic systems is far less about voting age and far more about turnout.  
  • There are other ways to have political influence than to vote, and these kids are doing exactly that and doing it incredibly well.  
Oh, and it ain't gonna happen in the US--the GOP would never allow it as they are losing the battle for the votes of the young people.  They are already trying to disenfranchise them via #voterfraudfraud--that college id's don't count, that residency requirements are being developed, etc--so don't expect them to allow the voting age to go down.


MSS said...

Yes, the draft age was very much part of the advocacy of lowering the voting age to 18 back in the 1970s. (Saying this from memory; I am a bit older than you.)

MSS said...

There is a literature on the effects of reducing voting age. I do not know this lit well, but it seems to range from findings of no real effect to findings of significant boost in turnout propensity. This lit is on Scotland (where 16-year-olds could vote in the independence referendum and Scottish Parliament elections) and Austria (where there's been some experimentation at local level).

Part of the logic for reducing voting age is precisely that those of that age group are still dependent on their parents, and more likely to form voting habits than when away at college as many are by 18. I think at least one study also suggests that parents of 16 yo are themselves likelier to vote when they have a newly eligible youngster at home.

I can't say for sure, but I think the first country to lower voting age to 16 was Nicaragua (Sandinista youth support).

As for myself, I am not sure whether I think it is a good idea or not. But I'm certainly not against it, based on current information.