Fellow democrats of all ages, what do you think of this idea? It’s a proposal for people to lose their right to vote when they hit 70. That’s the approximate age when older people start showing less concern for the future of society. This is when they tend to focus more on protecting their immediate interests than on issues affecting future generations.
How older people vote
Research has shown that most older people vote more conservatively. Support for issues like the environment and education declines with age. Gay marriage and legal marijuana are issues often opposed by older people. Their voting patterns are more anti-immigrant than that of the youth. (Even though the elderly are more reliant on immigrants for nursing and home care.) The votes of older people were crucial to the US election victory of Donald Trump and UK referendum support for Brexit.
The reasoning behind the capping of the voting age in later years is to ensure that leadership and policies are determined by those with the strongest stake in the future. Disenfranchising the elderly is a policy proposed to limit the influence of voters who care less about how things will work out in the long term. When they won’t be around any more. As opposed to the youth, who expect to live on to experience the consequences of their votes.
Ageism from both young and old
Ageing voters, are you uncomfortable with the idea of lowering the voting age at the top end? Do you see it as ageist? Do you feel that it is based on generalisations and stereotypes? You could indeed retort that it is not only senior citizens who vote for their own interests.
“Although evidence suggests that seniors sometimes vote in ways that discount the future, younger citizens also vote in self-interested ways that can lead to costs being passed on to future citizens.”
An example of self-serving youthful voters cited by this public policy expert will resonate with South Africans. This is due to the recent government commitment to subsidising free higher education and training for poor and working class undergraduate students – after several years of university students’ protests. Munro contends that free university policies serve the youth, but pass on the cost to citizens of the future.
Lowering the voting age
Bear all these arguments in mind as you reflect on a related issue: lowering the voting age for teens. The most common age when you can first vote had been 21, but it has been lowered to 18in recent years in countries from India to Morocco.
You used to have to to be 21 years old to vote in America. Until 1971, when the voting age was lowered. Since 18-year-olds were being conscripted to fight and die in Vietnam, it was argued that they deserved the right to choose the leaders who send them to war. The US voting age was changed through a constitutional amendment.
Now there is a demand to further lower the voting age. Similar to the situation nearly 50 years ago, this is a response to violence.
Teenaged activists against guns
The campaign for stricter gun control has been re-ignited by students who survived the latest American school shooting in Florida. The argument is that if 16-year-olds can be shot dead in their classrooms, they should have the right to vote on laws that could protect them from gun violence.
Other reasons are advanced to enfranchise those under 18. Studies show that people are more likely to be lifelong voters if they start earlier, so that voting becomes a habit. New Danish research has shown a further “trickle-up effect” – meaning that parents of new voters also get encouragement to vote. Sixteen-year-olds can already vote in Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua and in localities of the US, Germany, Switzerland and Scotland.
So who is opposed to lowering the voting age? No surprise that it is older people. A common claim is that youth lack the maturity required for voting.
“The human brain is still developing until the mid-20s, with moral reasoning and abstract thought coming later in the cycle than previously thought.”
– Forbes US business magazine
There is evidence disputing this claim, but My New Old Self advises not to go there. Rather not enter a debate about what the brain can and cannot do at what age. Next thing older people will be forced to undergo dementia tests before casting ballots.
It is understandable to feel that our years have brought experience and wisdom. Most of us believe that we know more than when we were teenagers. Yet while some don’t consider 16-year-olds ready to vote, in many countries they are allowed to drive cars.
No matter what you think of lowering the voting age – at the bottom or top end – surely it is valuable for everyone of all ages to consider issues around youth and democracy. It would be a pity if the youthful protests around the Florida school massacre served only to boost the fortunes of the security industry.