One of the current issues circulating the political sphere, predominantly from younger voices, is whether 16-17-year-olds should be able to vote. The younger generation has been particularly underrepresented in manifestos and pledges outside of working hours and general rights, and with a generation that is becoming more interested in politics, the time seems right to lower the voting age.

16-17 is a critical age in everyone’s life, it is where people must begin thinking of their future rather than simply living in the moment. Deciding to pursue college, sixth form or an apprenticeship is a landmark moment as it results in the type of qualifications you will receive and how soon you will enter employment. Beyond that 16-17-year-olds also have to decide whether they want their path to lead to university. Tuition fees often have a prominent place in party manifestos, whether it is to decrease, increase or remove them entirely, by the time most people turn 18 it is either too late for any changes to affect them or they simply miss out on voting.

When discussing future considerations, it would be remiss not to mention the Scottish Independence Referendum of 2014. This was the fist time 16-17-year-olds were allowed to vote, and doesn’t it seem fair? The result of such a referendum would have no doubt affected the immediate future of these teenagers’ lives. The same courtesy was not extended to wide-spread Britain’s 16-17s during the 2016 Brexit Referendum. Those same people who were not allowed to have a say in their lives back then, are having to live with the consequences today.

But why 16-17-year-olds? After all, if we’re talking about such a drastic change to the voting age, why not 15 or even 14? Aside from considering their next education steps there isn’t much difference between the age brackets, right? 16-17 is the first-time teenagers have increased responsibility thrust upon them, they are old enough to consent, old enough to drive, old enough to leave full time education. With such milestone changes, what difference would adding the ability to vote make? Statistically, the change would be good as it would eventually lead to an increase in voting participation. Whilst it is common for people not to vote the at their first opportunity, being able to vote at an earlier age will encourage teenagers to educate themselves on politics and thus develop their own views, which would in turn boost their desire to vote.

The main argument against this however is that under 18s are not considered full citizens. This is mostly based on the fact under 18s have not finished their educational development and still live with their parents, supposedly not having enough of a stake in society. This argument is becoming increasingly moot as due to the cost of living, many 18-year-olds who were looking forward to moving away from their parents are forced to stay at home. Applications for university have also gone up from 38.2% in 2019 to 41.3% in 2024. This rise in applications shows that many 18-year-olds are also not quite finished with their educational development. So, what is the difference between 18s and under 18s?

It is also argued that 16-17-year-olds do not have a great enough level of understanding to be able to vote. Since 2002, Citizenship Education has been compulsory in secondary schools. This is designed to inform pupils and how to play a full role in democratic society. Teachers too are also taking it upon themselves to get their students more interested in politics by discussing current events. To me, this sounds like the most recent generations of under 18s are becoming well informed about politics, but of course there will always be those that don’t take it seriously. However, if we are going to exclude all 16-17-year-olds from voting because some will not have a great level of understanding, shouldn’t we do the same for all age groups? Of course not. If that happened there would be no voters and even if it was decided that the politically poorly educated would be restricted from voting, democracy would be undermined due to discrimination against intelligence. This is exactly what is happening to the UK’s teenage population.

Additionally, allowing under 18s to vote would be beneficial to representation in parliament. In younger age groups it is most common for their political views to align with the left-wing, with age these views become more right-wing (generally in the 30s to 40s range). As is fair, there is no age cap on voting, people don’t suddenly have a democratic right stripped from them when they reach retirement. However, this leads to a population that is dominated by more right-wing views and due to the way the current electoral system of First Past the Post works, seats gained in the House of Commons are disproportionate the percentage of votes. For example, if a party got 40% of the vote and formed a government, 60% still voted against. This means the views of younger generations are underrepresented. If under 18s were able to vote, their participation could lead to an increase in representation as there will be more young people voting and as a result a wider variety of partisan views. The two-party system of Conservative and Labour is also not as entrenched in the younger generation as much as it is in the older. This could also mean the UK may shift in the direction of a multi-party system with an increase in votes for minor parties as the young may vote for a variety of candidates.

However, it could be argued it is necessary to preserve childhoods by keeping them free of politics. Being under 18 is a time to focus on studies and exploits with friends. Except, that is no longer the case, and this idea is inherently flawed. Recent years have seen teenagers get more active in politics, they have been involved in protests about the climate crisis, LGBTQ+ rights issues and Black Lives Matter, to name a few. Why is this happening? Because teenagers do not have a legitimate means of democratic participation – they have to join protests for their voices to be heard, which always seem to be ignored.

Ultimately, lowering the voting age from 18 to 16 would finally give young people a democratically sound way in which to express their views. Due to the compulsory education and more active knowledge of politics there has never been a better time for 16-17-year-olds to get the vote. Moreover, with issues that can affect their future such as national independence or changes to tuition fees, it seems only right that under 18s get a say in the matter. Furthermore, this change would benefit democracy as it would lead to a rise in participation and a more even distribution of views. Overall, 16-17-year-olds should be able to vote.

Toby with Zach Barnett
Toby with Zach Barnett
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