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Should the UK Lower the Voting Age to 16?

By Amber Khlat

London, United Kingdom

Today, young people are becoming politically active earlier compared to previous generations (Photo Credit: Democratic Audit)

Lowering the minimum voting age to sixteen has been at the forefront of British politics since the December 2019 elections, when the government scrapped the amendment seeking to extend the minimum voting age to sixteen. There is a lobby in the UK to lower the voting age to sixteen, spearheaded by the Labour Party, as statistics show that younger people are more likely to be on the left of the political spectrum. Multiple countries––including Brazil, Austria and Nicaragua––have a minimum voting age of sixteen. Throughout Britain, there are differing views on this topic––often based upon people's political standings.

Today, young people are becoming politically active earlier compared to previous generations. By the age of sixteen, young people are well informed and mature enough to vote due to the advances of information technology.

Teenagers are more aware of political issues, and the broadcast media and the internet in particular ensures that everyone is familiar with the issues of the day. However, many may argue that the rise of media and technology has led to a simplistic and superficial political world. A study done by Oxford University shows that of people between ages 18-24, 73% get their news through social media. This staggering percentage displays the reliance young voters have on media to take part in campaigns and learn about the prominent issues. This can lead to a biased, one-sided view of politics, leading voters to not be fully informed. This point, however, can be rebutted due to the large reliance on social media throughout generations. Adults still use social media to a large extent and therefore singling out young voters can be seen as ageist. Even though it is common for many people to be politically unsophisticated or uninterested in politics, there is not a significant difference between the ages of sixteen and eighteen. In any case, voters are not required to be fully informed or highly intellectual to vote––such a requirement would be elitist and anti-democratic. How somebody gathers information shouldn’t be a determining factor deciding whether one should be allowed to vote.

People aged sixteen are, in many other aspects, adult members of society due to the increase in their freedom from their guardians. Further, many argue that by the age of sixteen, one is already able to marry, pay taxes, leave home, get a job, give sexual consent and join the army. If sixteen-year-olds are legally allowed to sign up for the army where there is a chance of them dying for their country, surely voting for a government until the next election is a lot less significant. Choosing to be involved in the army and having the right to get married requires more emotional intelligence than voting requires.

A sixteen-year-old is an adult member of society and should be treated as such. There is a need to reduce the political alienation of young people who feel they are just as aware of issues at sixteen as they would be at eighteen.

Society at large does not have a favorable opinion of getting married and having children at the age of sixteen, although it is legal. This shows that the reality of a sixteen-year-old’s emotional maturity is different to what the law states. However, if sixteen-year-olds are treated as adults by numerous laws, then they should be allowed to have a say in their future––by voting.

Some argue that voting is a rite of passage. This is because the framework of politics is complicated, and it requires experience of life and politics to vote in an informed manner, potentially leading many young people to be too easily swayed by certain candidates. Some then argue that votes for children could undermine the seriousness of and therefore negatively impact general elections.

Lowering the voting age to sixteen is beneficial to society due to the increased political awareness and knowledge that sixteen-year-olds have due to the boom in social media, which promotes news and shares sources and stories efficiently. Sixteen-year-olds are given legal responsibilities that personally affect them, so they should get to vote for the political candidates and policies they wish to support.


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