Vote early and vote often: reinforcing the unwritten rule of representative democracy

My chapter for Beyond the Youth Citizenship Commission: Young People and Politics, edited by Andrew Mycock and Jonathan Tonge, on lowering the voting age to 16.

Young people are far less likely to vote than other age groups. In the 2010 general election, only 44 per cent of 18-24 year-olds voted, compared to an overall turnout rate of 65 per cent. Turnout among 25-34 year-olds was also significantly lower than the overall figure. In the 2009 local elections, 10 per cent of 18-24 year-olds voted, compared to 85 per cent of those aged 65 or over. It is of course too simplistic to say there is an automatic – or any – correlation between low turnout and the economic woes that today’s young people are experiencing. Age cohorts do not vote in blocs, and to suggest otherwise would be to ignore evidence that members of different generations care about each other, perhaps just as much as they do fellow members of their own age cohort (cf. Kneale et al., 2010).

Equally, however, this does not mean that it does not matter that fewer young people are expressing their democratic preferences. Crucially, population ageing means that, even if they were, they would still be ‘out-voted’ by other cohorts. This is a very recent (and intensifying) trend that may be helping to undermine an ‘unwritten rule’ of representative democracy that those whose lives are affected for longest by the outcomes of the democratic process have the greatest influence at the ballot box. In this chapter I outline why lowering the voting age to 16, or even merely holding a referendum on this issue, may be part of the answer.

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