aAre today’s teenagers politically aware wunderkinds on the front lines of the climate crisis, underdeveloped thinkers with perpetually messy bedrooms — or — just people, with the same stupidity, foibles, or ignorance as other members of the voting public?
Questions about teenagers’ decision-making skills were in the headlines this week after New Zealand’s supreme court ruled in a landmark ruling that the current voting age – 18 – discriminated against young New Zealanders. In response, the government has pledged to introduce legislation to lower the age and to have parliament vote in the next six months.
That bill will face an uphill battle to pass: amendments to New Zealand’s electoral law require a 75% majority and the National and Act parties have already spoken out against a change. But discussions about voting age have gained momentum in recent years, as countries grapple with multigenerational issues and democratic vulnerabilities. We asked Guardian readers what they thought of the lower voting age and hundreds of people responded.
Many readers — including some who could get the right to vote if the age were lowered — were excited about the change.
“I deserve to vote. I’m 16 and so frustrated with the government’s inability to make meaningful change. As a teenager, it seems like my whole life is dictated by what adults decide for me. I have some autonomy, but the final say comes from people 30 years away from figuring out what my life is like…. I’m tired of asking adults to save the planet. I’m tired of asking adults to let me live my life when I have to suffer the consequences of the actions of a parliament that doesn’t represent me. I am angry and have no power. I fully support reducing the voting age to 16.” Aubrey Cooper
“Our rangatahi [children] they will be responsible for fixing this mess we have created. In a system already rigged against them, the least we can do is give them a say.” Joel Baxendale
“As a parent of four teenagers/tweens, I have complete confidence in their intelligence and ability to make fully informed voting decisions at 16, whether or not they vote like me. They are more involved in the world and understand the big, complex issues we face than many older adults I know. When we look at the full spectrum of ages currently voting, we need to remember that even people at the end of their lives, some of whom are living with dementia and other conditions, can (rightfully) vote. Teens bring fresh, smart, and much-needed opinions to the Democratic table. Rebecca Sinclair
“As a 56-year-old who has watched my generation and the generation before them completely ignore the climate disaster we are heading into (whether through ignorance, greed or just not wanting to know), there is no doubt that the next generation faces enormous challenges — and most of it is our work. Obviously 16-year-olds should be able to vote… It’s their future. We have to let young people have a say.” Kim Ribbink
Others were skeptical, particularly regarding the decision-making abilities 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 Davis
“My son is 14.5 years old. To date he has expressed very little interest in politics or major areas of life influenced by the government. This includes economic and fiscal policy, foreign policy, immigration policy, environmental policy, cash rates, inflation… He often doesn’t feel like going to school, doing his homework or doing the dishes. He devotes a good deal of his free time to arguing with his younger brother, dancing ballets and watching funny videos on social media. He also has very strong, black and white opinions about things, and seems to know the answers to very complex social problems… I think it’s wonderful to enable young people to be better educated and more involved in public issues and policies. But I don’t think involving them prematurely in the general election is the way to do it.” Natalie Kudryashova
Others doubted the faculties of adolescents, but also of humanity in general.
“In principle, it seems like a good idea: after all, they are the next generation and the decisions made by governments will have a big impact on them and would certainly generate more interest in youth policy. However, on the negative side, 16-year-olds are far from mature and often make irrational, impetuous and reckless decisions. As a high school teacher, I see it happening day after day. 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
“It could be argued that young people under 18 do not have enough knowledge and little real-life experience of the consequences of political events. Who are too easily influenced by social media. Seriously, could you argue that a very large number of adult voters have a more mature view of political factions? I’ve seen countless people cast their votes based on the most bogus ‘reasons’… I really don’t see how they have an advantage over young people.” Peter Hubner