Are today’s teenagers politically aware wunderkinds on the frontlines of the climate crisis, underdeveloped thinkers with perpetually messy bedrooms – or – just people, with the same foolishness, foibles or ignorance as other members of the voting public?
Questions over teenagers’ decision-making abilities have been in the headlines this week, after New Zealand’s supreme court declared in a landmark ruling that the current voting age – 18 years old – was discriminatory against younger New Zealanders. In response, the government has pledged to introduce legislation to lower the age and for parliament to vote on it in the next six months.
That bill will face a steep uphill battle to pass – amendments to NZ electoral law require a 75% majority, and the National and Act parties have already come out against a change. But discussions about the voting age have gained momentum in recent years, as countries grapple with multi-generational issues and democratic vulnerabilities. We asked Guardian readers what they thought about lowering the voting age, and hundreds responded.
Many readers – including some who could win the right to vote if the age were lowered – were enthusiastic about the change.
“I deserve to vote. I’m 16 and I get so frustrated with the government’s failure to make meaningful change. As a teenager, it feels like my entire life is dictated by what adults decide for me. I get a certain amount of autonomy, but the final say comes from people 30 years away from understanding what my life is like …. I’m tired of asking adults to save the planet. I’m sick of asking adults to let me live my life when I’m going to suffer the consequences of the actions of a parliament that does not represent me. I’m angry, and I have no power. I fully support the reduction of the voting age to 16.” Aubrey Cooper
“Our rangatahi [children] are going to be responsible for fixing this mess we’ve created. In a system is already rigged against them, the least we can do is give them a say in it.” Joel Baxendale
“As the parent of four teens/preteens, I have full confidence in their intelligence and ability to make fully informed voting decisions at 16, whether or not they vote the same way as me. They are more engaged in the world, and understanding of the large complex issues we face, than many older adults I know. If we consider the full spectrum of ages who currently vote, we need to remember that people at the end of their lives, some of whom are affected by dementia and other conditions, also (rightly) can vote. Teenagers bring fresh, intelligent, and much needed views to the democratic table.” Rebecca Sinclair
“As a 56-year-old who has watched my and older generations completely ignore the climatic disaster we’re heading into (due to ignorance, greed or just not wanting to know), there’s no doubt that the next generation has enormous challenges ahead -- and most of it is of our making. Of course 16-year-olds should be able to vote … It’s their future. We must let young people have a say in it.” Kim Ribbink
Others were skeptical – particularly of the decision making capabilities of their younger selves, as well as their own offspring.
“When I was 16 I was more interested in chasing girls and drinking beer.” Jacob Davies
“My child is 14.5 years old. To date she has expressed very little interest in politics, or major areas of life influenced by the government. This includes economic and tax policy, foreign policy, immigration policy, environmental policy, cash rates, inflation … She often doesn’t feel like going to school, doing homework or the dishes. She dedicates a fair bit of her free time to bickering with her younger sibling, dancing ballet, and watching funny videos on social media. She also holds very strong, black and white opinions on things, and appears to know the answers to very complex social problems … I think it is wonderful to empower young people to be better educated on and more involved in public issues and policy. But I don’t think that prematurely involving them in general elections is the way to do it.” Natalie Kudryashova
Others were doubtful about the faculties of teenagers – but also of humanity in general.
“In principle, it sounds like a good idea – they are the next generation after all and decisions made by governments will affect them greatly, and it would definitely generate more interest in politics for younger people. However, on the down side, 16-year-olds are far from mature and often make irrational, impetuous and injudicious decisions. As a high school teacher, I see this happen day in day out. If you want voting in elections to become a system based on populism rather than rationalism, then lowering the voting age is a good idea.” James Cameron
“One might say that the younger people under 18 don’t have enough knowledge, and little real life experience of consequences of political events. That they are too easily swayed by social media. But, seriously, could you claim that a very large number of adult voters have a more mature outlook on political factions? I have seen countless people cast their vote based on the most fatuous ‘reasons’ … I don’t really see how they have an edge over the young’uns.” Peter Huebners