Young and free

datePosted on 13:19, July 28th, 2009 by Lew

It seems that Australia is considering a measure which would give 16 and 17 year-olds the right to vote in federal elections.

There are some aspects of Australia’s political system which make this sort of measure perhaps less controversial than in NZ. Australia’s electoral system is more complex than NZ’s; there are many more levels of representation, with two chambers at federal and state level (excluding Queensland); the right being proposed only extends to federal elections, not to state elections which are arguably more important to local electors; and it is a right to vote in a country where adult electors are required to vote. In a sense, proferring the opportunity to vote to those young’uns who consider themselves sufficiently informed and engaged to do so could limit cases of people being thrown into the deep end of compulsory voting in a complex system without a clue.

Politically, this was poison in NZ not so long ago, with most of the vitriol directed at Sue Bradford (who sponsored the Civics Education and Voting Age Bill), and the Greens’ secret conspiracy to take over the country.

But wait a minute, didn’t that bill include civics education? Wouldn’t that make NZ’s electorate more aware of and engaged with political systems and norms? While those with an ideological barrow to push would deride the teaching of civics as a propaganda exercise wherever it didn’t take their particular viewpoint, it is perfectly possible to teach the broad strands of political history, principles of government and representation and the bones of the major ideologies in a non-partisan manner – not an unbiased manner, mind; in a manner which makes the presence of bias clear and obvious enough for students to go and educate themselves. As far as I’m concerned, civics education and democracy should go hand in hand – and civics education and compulsory voting must go together. As it stands, we rely exclusively on the media to give us the information we need to be free and self-governing – without any sort of formal idea about what it means to be free and self-governing, or any critical tools to judge whether we are, or whether the information we get is sufficient to that end.

So, while I’m unconvinced that 16 and 17 year-olds should vote, the idea of them voting with a civics education is frankly less frightening than the idea of adults voting without one.

L

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5 Responses to “Young and free”

  1. roger nome on July 29th, 2009 at 12:15

    IQ research has found that scores in IQ tests flatten out at the age of 16 (or shortly before or after).

    http://www.psychologicaltesting.com/iqtest.html

    So from the point of view of people being able to understand what they’re voting for, there’s no rationale for the voting age being 18 rather than 16. In fact, i’d go so far as to say that a 16 year old that’s been through civics education would be in a better position to cast an informed vote than a present day 18 year old.

    Of course having a politically informed populace has never been a popular idea amongst those on the right. In fact, various right wing ideologues have advanced the idea that low voter turn out is a good thing because it shows complacency and contentment among the populace – which is simply code for “only enfranchised middle and upper-class people are voting, which is great for our interests, keep it going boys! You’re doing a great job”.

  2. Lew on July 29th, 2009 at 12:26

    roger,

    In fact, i’d go so far as to say that a 16 year old that’s been through civics education would be in a better position to cast an informed vote than a present day 18 year old.

    Yes, I agree – this is precisely the point of my last para.

    Of course having a politically informed populace has never been a popular idea amongst those on the right. In fact, various right wing ideologues have advanced the idea that low voter turn out is a good thing because it shows complacency and contentment among the populace – which is simply code for “only enfranchised middle and upper-class people are voting, which is great for our interests, keep it going boys! You’re doing a great job”.

    This is also, to a large extent, the reason behind the cries of “indoctrination!” “propaganda!” whenever civics education gets raised in certain circles. It’s a fair point, though – whose perspective gets taught? My answer: all of them.

    L

  3. Pablo on July 29th, 2009 at 12:59

    Actually Roger, it is authoritarian elitists, be they of the right or left, who seek to keep the population complacent, if not content, but always uninformed. They substitute freely garnered knowledge, informed debate and critical thought with propaganda and ideological mantras. Some of these authoritarians cloak their actions in democratic garb; others do not bother with such niceties. But it is not exclusively a Right orientation.

    I do agree that in many liberal democracies, especially the US, right-leaning parties work hard to suppress the popular vote (in terms of voter turnout), while Left-leaning parties try to increase it. But there again, the calculus is not a function of voter intelligence but instead one of numbers–there are more workers than bosses in society.

  4. Anita on July 29th, 2009 at 13:06

    I think that earlier this year I linked to an interesting lecture by Therese Arseneau in which she talks about suppressing turnout being a right wing strategy in the US.

    P.S. It would be really nice to see a post arguing for lowering the voting age, is anyone up for it? If you’re not a regular poster it’d be a very welcome guest post!!

  5. roger nome on July 29th, 2009 at 13:15

    Pablo:

    “Actually Roger, it is authoritarian elitists, be they of the right or left, who seek to keep the population complacent, if not content, but always uninformed.”

    Yeah, i guess you have a more international perspective than me. My study has been in the anglo-saxon liberal democracies so my comment was informed by that, and lew’s post roughly covered that area, so i took it as read that i wasn’t including authoritarian leftist regimes, say in the Middle East, or Latin America ….

    Fair comment though.

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