It’s no secret that young people in the U.S. are less involved in politics than other age groups.
More accurately, it is clear that young people between the ages 18 to 25 vote at a lower rate than the rest of the population.
There have been so many theories as to why our generation is the most inactive demographic, but instead of jumping to conclusions, rather, let’s refer to statistics around the world.
The U.S., among many other countries has a voting age of 18.
An article in The Guardian made a list of the various countries around the world with a lower voting age.
They found that “The voting age is 16 and above in Ecuador, Brazil and Argentina […] Austria is the only country in the EU where 16 years olds can vote in general elections. Turnout is roughly the same as in other age groups.”
Austria presents an interesting example.
This suggests that lowering the voting age might cause younger individuals to be more or in this case, equally involved in politics as the rest of the country.
So the ultimate question is whether or not 16 year olds understand politics well enough to vote?
The answer is, they could.
Countries with a lower voting age have a greater amount of civic education in schools. In an interview with Bill Maher, Michael Moore argues, “It’s like drivers ed., at 16 they should be learning about how the government really works”.
Civics has never been any high school student’s favorite class, and that is because it serves to satisfy a required curriculum rather than to actually teach students how politics work.
In this same interview with Bill Maher, Bob Graham explains that we need to “reintroduce serious study of what it means to be a citizen in this country”.
He also suggests that our lack of civic education might be why “Donald Trump thinks he is going to be elected to be George III rather than president of the United States”. Graham is a very witty man.
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If the U.S. decided to lower the voting age, there would be some valid initial concerns. Debatewise.org released information that compared the reasons for and against a voting age of 16. One of the reasons against the change is that “18-25 year olds are the least likely to cast a vote at election time. […] Lowering the voting age still further is therefore likely to reduce turnout even more”.
Though this concern is valid, it focuses less on the voting age and more on the true underlying issues with youth voting in general.
Many young people who are eligible to vote claim that they do not want to participate in an election either because they do not like or understand politics, or they feel that the system is corrupt.
The second reason can be chalked up as normal, historical evidence of youth rebellion against “the man”, but the first reason is very concerning.
When asked, some eligible voters between the ages of 18-25 claimed they don’t like politics because it is so divided.
They said that they didn’t like the process of an election in general, or that candidates never seem genuine.
Every one can agree that these complaints come from a long history of politicians and/or candidates tap dancing around controversial questions, catering to a particular political party, or reiterating the same ideologies over and over again.
But everyone feels that way about politics to some degree. So while this is a turnoff for any intelligent voter, it does not get right down to the reasons why young people just don’t vote.
Young people’s complaints that they do not understand politics should be at the forefront of these low voting rate theories.
A polling website called, The Top Tens, did a polling to rate school subjects from best to worst according to anyone who visits the site.
Best, being the subject of the most value and importance, and worst being the least useful.
Their ranking is as follows:
And social studies, (i.e. politics) is not even in the top ten. Schools stress the importance of math and science to students starting at a very young age.
Perhaps, it is why our generation is so concerned about the environment.
The evidence clearly demonstrates that when students are given more opportunity to focus on a subject, (like millennials have been with environmental sciences), they carry that subject’s importance with them throughout their lives.
If social studies are so low on this poll, it is clear that the subject did not ensure the same kind of interest or importance as much as other subjects.
With inadequate curriculum for civic studies, it is no wonder that when asked why young people do not like politics they reply that they do not understand how it works!
It is even worse in college.
By this point in time, individuals have developed an understanding of their interests and aspirations for the most part.
Politics becomes this arduous and tedious practice of American culture that students feel apathetic towards.
Emory College’s newspaper, “Southern Changes” wrote an article about why the youth don’t vote.
They interviewed different students to get their opinions. One student explains, “Being a young person myself, I understand both the importance of being an active citizen of the United States, and the overwhelming, “it doesn’t affect me” syndrome”.
Topics like social security and welfare reform are things that young people have never needed to learn about, nor are they very interested in how these issues are dealt with by the government.
It becomes much easier to focus on their individual lives and studies than to be an active voice in the debate of social security benefits.
However, this way of thinking caters towards the stereotypical belief that millennials have a short attention span and lack of interest for things that do not affect their personal lives. But wait, these things really do.
In a recent New York Times article, Tamar Lewin explains that millennials are more likely to move back in with their parents than any other generation before them due to a decline in marriages and a terrible job market.
The economy has affected new graduates in a very bad way. Jobs are scarce and pay is poor, therefore, all of that student loan debt seems a bit problematic to pay back when one barely can find a minimum wage job.
These are things that come up in elections; these are things young people should be at the forefront of in politics.
Young people have to decide as a whole to actively participate in local and national reform that lessens the amount of acquired debt from school, and opens up more jobs with better wages.
This is not to say that young people turn a blind eye to these kinds of issues, this election has been an especially noisy one from this demographic due to candidate Bernie Sanders.
And yet, even with a candidate such as him, it is difficult to rely on 18 to 25 years old to participate in politics past the presidential election.
Young people initially were active supporters of President Obama, but quickly ceased any political action and barely voted in the most recent midterm elections.
The scary part is that if Sanders is not the Democratic candidate, many young people and their disdain for Hilary Clinton have declared that they will not participate in this election.
So do we blame millennials for being the things they are so often accused of being, or do we look at other countries and their youth voter participation, and decide that this is a systematic issue?
Reflecting back on the initial question of whether or not 16 year olds understand politics well enough to vote, the answer as of now is definitely not because our 18 to 25 year olds even claim to be uninformed and uneducated in politics.
But this does not have to be the case.
Evidence confirms that when you include citizens in civic endeavors at a young age, and you provide them adequate means of education for the subject, they do participate as much as other age groups.
For the U.S. it might not be the time to discuss lowering the voting age if we still do not have a more effective curriculum to educate and motivate young people in politics.
That should be the priority and then perhaps we can follow in other countries footsteps and lower our voting age.
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