Lower the voting age?

Sir Patrick Stewart believes that 14-year-olds should vote

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Should the voting age be lowered or raised?

By Daniel J. McLaughlin

It has been 50 years since Harold Wilson's government lowered the voting age from 21 to 18. Half a century later, there are calls to reduce it even further.

Are today's teenagers mature enough to cast their vote in elections?

The Claim

Sir Patrick Stewart believes that the voting age should be lowered, allowing teenagers to participate in elections, the Daily Mirror reports.

The 78-year-old actor said: “I hear talk that 14-year-olds should have the vote.

“I would certainly vote for that. They want to have an impact. That’s what young people today have already been having, politically.”

At the premiere of his film, 'The Kid Who Would Be King', he praised the younger generation: “There have been remarkable incidents where young teenagers have stood up and pronounced what has to be changed to make this world not only better for them but, in their generosity and forward-looking, everybody.”

Sir Patrick added that he was impressed by the “generosity and forward-looking" of youngsters.

The Counterclaim

There are arguments that the voting age should be going the opposite way - upwards.

Writing for the BBC, James Tilley, professor of politics at Oxford University, asks: "Should the UK be raising rather than lowering the voting age?"

The debate around lowering the voting age to 16 often includes this argument: you can join the Army, get married, and pay taxes.

However, as Phil Cowley, a professor of politics at Queen Mary, University of London, notes: "When you dig a bit deeper you discover that most of these things are really 18.

"You can join the armed forces at 16, but only with parental permission and you're not supposed to serve on the front line until you are 18. In England and Wales, you can only get married below the age of 18 with parental permission."

The age at which we are allowed to do things - such as using a tanning booth or buying cigarettes and fireworks - is going up, not down. "It seems odd to suggest that people are responsible enough to vote at 16, but not buy sparklers," Professor Tilley adds.

The younger generation is also growing up later. Currently, only 29 per cent of 16 to 19-year-olds are working full-time. In the late 1960s, around four-fifths of that age group were in work.

The Facts

Currently, the minimum voting age for Westminster elections in the UK is 18. It was reduced to 16 for the Scottish referendum, as well as local and Scottish parliament elections, and it is set to be reduced in Wales for their Assembly elections.

In the 2017 general election, Labour, the SNP, Plaid Cymru, and the Green Party backed the call to lower the voting age.

Labour MPs introduced a private members’ bill on this issue in November 2017, receiving cross-party support and reached the second reading stage in the Commons. The Representation of the People (Young People's Enfranchisement) Bill, proposed by the Labour MP Jim McMahon, was filibustered by Tories, leaving no time for a vote.

Is there public appetite for reducing the voting age? It depends on how you ask the question. According to YouGov, when the public are asked about giving 16 and 17-year-olds the right to vote, 34 per cent support the idea, and 45 per cent opposite. When it comes to reducing the voting age, under a quarter (24 per cent) believe it should come down, while over half (51 per cent) do not.

"Regardless of how the question is asked, there is no public majority for allowing 16-year-olds to vote, so those who favour extending the franchise have an uphill battle to convince the public of their case," the polling company concludes.

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