The Voters Who Shouldn’t Vote

Attempts to extend the vote to 16-year-olds for the EU referendum were defeated. But what about a maximum voting age?


Older voters have the highest percentage turnout of any age bracket in the UK. (Photo: New Statesman)

Older voters have the highest percentage turnout of any age bracket in the UK. (Photo: New Statesman)

In less than four months, every voter in the UK will have a voice in deciding if we should continue our country’s membership in the EU. At the moment the referendum seems a long way off. So far, all we know is the wording of the question: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” After a long wait the date has finally been set – 23 June – and there have also been questions raised about the age requirements of this vote: should 16-year-olds be allowed the vote? The answer was decided: no.

Perhaps the question should not have been about lowering the minimum age requirements but rather: should there be an age cap that sets a maximum voting age for the EU referendum?

In May 2015 I was finally old enough to vote in a general election. My interest in politics seems to be the exception to a growing apathy amongst younger citizens, many of whom are deciding not to vote.

In 2015 the turnout for voters aged 18- 24 (the youngest bracket) was just 43 per cent, making it the age bracket with the lowest turnout. The percentage turnout gradually increases with each advancing age bracket, rising to 78 per cent of our eldest voters (65+). With the EU Referendum looming ahead of us, this apathy amongst young voters needs to stop. Perhaps the simple “Remain” or “Leave” answer will be more encouraging for young voters, who won’t need to identify themselves with a party. If we are to have a referendum result that reflects the attitudes of those who will be living with the decision, we need the greatest turnout to be from the younger generation.

Whilst those of an advanced age may have more experience and the advantage of hindsight to aid them in choosing which way to vote, they won’t be living with the consequences as long as the younger voters will. One could say, they don’t have as much skin in the game. The younger generation do have more to lose and more to gain, yet it is them who are the most apathetic.

Scotland’s youngest voters cast their ballots for the first time ever in 2014. (Photo: BBC)

Scotland’s youngest voters cast their ballots for the first time ever in 2014. (Photo: BBC)

In 2014, Scotland allowed 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in the Scottish independence referendum. That referendum had a turnout of 84.59 per cent which, compared to the turnout of 66.1 per cent in the 2015 general election, was impressively high. The Electoral Commission’s statistics showed that 75 per cent of the 16-17 bracket voted in the Scottish referendum, which was higher than the 18-24 bracket, of which just 54 per cent voted, despite being less than half the size of the elder bracket.

A decision to lower the age requirement would have given a voice to young people, who would be the ones who would have to live longest with the consequences of the referendum. However, the decision to lower the maximum age for voters is one I would support with passion.

The last UK referendum to remain in Europe was held in June 1975, 41 years ago. If we have another EU referendum in 41 years, most voters currently in the 65+ age bracket probably won’t be taking part in it. Voters in the 18-24 bracket will spend the vast majority of their adult lives working, holidaying and starting their families in those ensuing 41 years.

The social and economic effects of a Brexit will affect the voters more than the geo-political changes. Things we currently take for granted could well be taken away from the public should the UK leave the EU. At the moment we can travel freely between EU countries using only our passports, but if we left the EU stricter regulations for travel would be introduced, necessitating visas and further travel documents. The Daily Telegraph told of German think tanks warning that a UK withdrawal could cost each UK citizen up to £3,500 across the next decade and a half. That would be £3,500 the younger voters would pay in tax; older voters who don’t live throughout the next 15-16 years won’t be dealing with this payment. Therefore, should we not tailor the requirements for voting in the referendum so that it only includes those people it will affect?

Doing this would have a negative effect on turnout for the referendum. As witnessed in both the 2014 Scottish referendum and the 2015 general election, the highest age brackets had the highest turnouts. Therefore, by making sure the votes are cast by people with more interest and more at stake, we would lose a large proportion of those who are actually likely to use their votes.

So, we’ve come full circle, back to the issue of the growing apathy in young voters. To ensure that the higher age brackets do not vote with their stubbornness, for short-term solutions or simply because “that’s the way they’ve always voted,” we need to lower the maximum voting age. Doing this will of course mean that young voters, that bracket from 18 – 24 years, will need to step up to the plate and take an interest in the future of their country. If the only people deciding on the future of our country are those who won’t be there to live in it, how safely can we leave that future in their hands?

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