“I myself have always been for lowering the voting age to 16,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told a crowd of reporters on Thursday.
It was nothing more than a quick comment, but it’s sparked a nationwide debate. The question of whether teenagers should be allowed to vote has entered into editorials across the nation, with supporters – mostly on the left – saying young voters would deserve in their future, while opponents – mostly on the right – say that young people lack the experience to make informed decisions.
Pelosi just advocated for lowering the voting age to 16 years old to “capture kids when they’re in high school.” pic.twitter.com/GxPTBPFBLJ
— Caleb Hull (@CalebJHull) March 14, 2019
Pelosi’s comment is unlikely to actually lead to a change in the law any time soon. Pelosi’s has clarified that her views are only those of her own, and not those of her party, and her party’s used their votes to make it clear that they don’t all agree. Just a little over a week ago, a bill that would have lowered the voting age to 16 was shot down in the House of Representatives. That bill, sponsored by Rep. Ayanna Pressley, received support from less than a third of Congress.
Still, it brings up an interesting question: what would happen if the United States let teenagers vote?
Countries that have lowered the voting age to 16
When KSL Newsradio’s Dave & Dujanovic discussed this question on the air, our listeners called in with to share their thoughts – and the overwhelming majority were against it.
“16-year-olds are too easily manipulated,” one caller said. “I cannot see them making a rational decision, especially when it concerns voting and putting people of power in office.”
Others didn’t mince their words. One caller accused Pelosi of trying to change policy to gather up a few extra votes, saying:
“The wicked witch Pelosi wants to lower the voting age to 16! Hmm… Why would she want to do that? Oh! Maybe because Communist heathens have invaded the high schools of America and that is who is teaching your children?”
But would it really be that bad?
As strange as the idea might sound to a lot of us in Utah, lowering the legal voting age to 16 isn’t an entirely novel one. Nine countries around the world – Austria, Scotland, Isle of Man, Malta, Argentia, Ecuador, Guernsey, Cuba, and Brazil – have already done it, and the facts might offer a few clues as to whether these concenrs are legiitmate or a panicked overreaction.
Do 16-year-old voters make informed choices?
So far, all signs point to yes.
Studies conducted in both Scotland and Austria – where 16 and 17-year-olds have the right to vote – have consistently found that teenagers are just as informed as adults are when they cast their votes.
Teenagers seem to vote in ways that reflect their personal interests and opinions, rather than making misguided votes based on distracting information, the studies have found.
School, however, does have to play a big role in that process. According to Dr. Jan Eichhorn’s study on young, Scottish voters, students are more informed voters when their schools give them an open forum to discuss their ideas.
Would they vote Democrat?
Of course, if students are basing their votes on school discussions, that could be a bad thing, as well. If, as one of listeners suggested, “Communist heathens” have taken over our high schools, that would suggest that young voters would be affected by the ideas of their teachers’ and their classmates.
Studies into American students, however, suggest that fears of left-wing propaganda in the classroom may be overstated. According to a poll by the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, only 29 percent of teenagers identify as Democrats.
There are more young Democrats than Republicans, who make up 23 percent of teenagers, but the overwhelming majority don’t strongly support either party. That other 48 percent of teens are either undecided or throw their support behind third parties like the Libertarians and the Green Party.
Teens are far more politically neutral, it seems, than the current generation of young, legally eligbile voters. According to the PEW Research Group, 59 percent of Millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) identify as Democrats, while only 32 percent identify as Republicans.
Would teens even vote?
Teen voting, according to research in Austria, is inconsistent. During some elections, those 16 and 17-year-old voters will come out to the polls – but in others, only a handful will show up.
They come out to vote in droves, with turnout rates as high as 88 percent, when issues relevant to their lives are on the ballot.
When candidates fail to try to appeal to the younger vote, however, they seem to stay at home. During the 2013 general election in Austria, only 63 percent of 16 and 17-year-old voters cast their votes, a drop of more than 28 percent.
Expert chalk that drop up to politicians just not trying hard enough to cater to the young vote.
More to the story
So does all that make lowering the voting age a good decision or a bad one?
When KSL Newsradio’s Dave & Dujanovic talked about this story on the air, they didn’t exactly see eye-to-eye.
Debbie Dujanovic says that, when she was in high school, she was the “poster child” for why teens should be allowed to vote – but Dave says he was more interested in shooting off bottle rockets than sound fiscal policy.
Hear their arguments – and what our listeners had to say – on the Dave & Dujanovic podcast.
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