Saturday 31 October 2015

Be Careful What You Wish For: Will Lowering The Voting Age To 16 Really Help The Left?

Other Priorities: Taken in aggregate, young people have consistently demonstrated that they have other, more pressing, priorities than closely engaging with the electoral process. In this respect, the 18-25-year-old “Baby Boomers” of 1975 – the very same people who, forty years later play such a crucial role in determining New Zealand’s electoral outcomes – proved to be no exception.
MARTYN BRADBURY’S turbulent political career is notable for its passionate and unwavering commitment to the interests of young New Zealanders. From his stint as the editor of the University of Auckland’s student newspaper, Craccum, to his Sunday night polemics on the youth-oriented Channel Z radio station, “Bomber” Bradbury’s pitch has always been to those condemned to live with the consequences of contemporary politicians’ mistakes.
“Bomber” is part old-time preacher. (Who else greets his audiences with an all-encompassing “Brothers and Sisters!”?) But he is also a user of the very latest communications technology. Loud, brash, occasionally reckless, Martyn Bradbury may not be universally liked, or invariably correct, but his determination to mobilise the young in their own defence cannot be disputed.
His latest crusade on behalf of younger Kiwis calls for a lowering of the voting age from 18 to 16 years. This radical extension of the franchise would be accompanied by the inclusion of a new and comprehensive programme of civics education in the nation’s secondary school curriculum.
In Martyn’s own words: “The sudden influx of tens of thousands of new voters with their own concerns and their own voice finally being heard could be the very means of not only lifting our participation rates, but reinvigorating the very value of our democracy.”
Very similar arguments were advanced by the champions of young people’s rights more than 40 years ago. The late 1960s and early 1970s marked the high point of what left-wing sociologists were already calling the “radical youth counter-culture”.
The slogan of the so-called “Baby Boom” generation, then in their teens and twenties, was uncompromising: “Don’t trust anyone over thirty!” And, political activists among their ranks were convinced that if 18-year-olds were given the right to vote, then their “revolutionary” generation wouldn’t hesitate to sock-it-to the squares in the Establishment and usher-in the long-awaited Age of Aquarius.
Perhaps surprisingly, the Establishment were only too happy to oblige. In 1971, the Twenty-Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution declared: “The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.”
Outgunned: The older generation of Democratic Party politicians were out-organised by George McGovern's young supporters at the 1972 Democratic Party Convention.
Young activists in the Democratic Party wasted little time in flexing their political muscles. At the 1972 Democratic Party Convention, an army of young delegates, veterans of the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War struggles in the streets of America, turned the tables on the old “pols” of the Democratic Party “machine”. (The same machine which, just four years earlier, had unleashed the Chicago Police on anti-war convention delegates.) Using the new party rules which the Chicago debacle had inspired, these youngsters comprehensively out-organised their much older right-wing opponents and secured the nomination for George McGovern, the most left-wing presidential candidate since Franklin Roosevelt.
With millions of new voters eligible to participate, and a candidate committed to fulfilling a sizeable chunk of the youth agenda of economic, social and political reforms, the scene seemed set for a sea-change in American politics.
If only.
In the presidential election of 1968, when the voting threshold was still set at 21-years-of-age, voter turn-out had been 60.8 percent (a high figure by American standards). With 18-year-olds entitled to vote, and a radical candidate for them to vote for, the turn-out in 1972 was 55.2 percent – a participation rate 5.6 percentage points lower than the previous election. To make matters worse, the radical candidate, George McGovern, suffered one of the most humiliating defeats in American political history. His conservative opponent, the Republican Party incumbent, Richard Nixon, was swept back into the White House with 60.7 percent of the popular vote!
Eighteen-year-olds got the vote in New Zealand in 1974. The Labour Government of Norman Kirk had not only enfranchised the young, but he had also ticked-off a great many items on the New Zealand youth agenda for change. He’d abolished compulsory military training, withdrawn the last military personnel from Vietnam, sent a frigate to Mururoa Atoll to protest French atmospheric nuclear testing, and called off the 1973 Springbok Tour. And that wasn’t all: Kirk had even subsidised the creation of “Ohus” – rural communes situated on Crown land.
How did the newly enlarged electorate respond one year later, at the General Election of 1975?
The turn-out in 1972, when the voting age was 20, had been 89.1 percent. Three years later, with tens-of-thousands of “Baby Boomers” enfranchised, the participation rate fell by 6.6 points to 82.5 percent. Even worse, the Third Labour Government (the last to evince genuinely left-wing beliefs) was hurled from office by the pugnacious National Party leader, Rob Muldoon. The swing from left to right was savage: Labour’s vote plummeted from 48.4 percent in 1972, to just 39.6 percent in 1975. [Mind you, what wouldn’t Labour give for “just” 39.6 percent support in 2017!?]
Much as I can understand why Martyn believes extending the franchise to 16-year-olds would harm the re-election prospects of John Key and the Right, I’m equally aware that the historical record argues precisely the opposite.
Taken in aggregate, young people have consistently demonstrated that they have other, more pressing, priorities than closely engaging with the electoral process. In this respect, the 18-25-year-old “Baby Boomers” of 1975 – the very same people who, forty years later (as Bomber so rightly laments) play such a crucial role in determining New Zealand’s electoral outcomes – proved to be no exception.
When they bother to vote at all, it’s true that young people tend to vote for the parties of the Left. But, equally, there is no disputing the fact that their massive and consistent non-participation in the electoral process continues to be of overwhelming benefit to the Right.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 30 October 2015.


Guerilla Surgeon said...

Given my last 20 years or so of experience with the teenage brain, I think there's a case for increasing the voting age.

Graeme Edgeler said...

What relevance has the likely voting intention of 16- and 17-year-olds to the question of whether they (or people even younger) should be able to vote?

Anonymous said...

16 year olds are children in every way.
Emotionally, intellectually, economically.
What possible justification is there for giving them the vote?
Then (most of them) grow up and get to vote.

Bradbury is an ill informed one sided loudmouth.
That's a simple description rather than a piece of abuse.
By comparison (and at the risk of sycophancy) , though I disagree with your politics, you are well informed an shrewd.

Anonymous said...

Martyn must be trying to impress someone, it is immature and naïve to propose such an idiocy. I believe that most NZ's would have no-objection to a age increase.

Anonymous said...

Let the current ditzies hyperventilate with Justin Beiber.

Andrew Nichols said...

When they bother to vote at all, it’s true that young people tend to vote for the parties of the Left.

The problem is that they are disenfranchised now. The Left died in 1984 and the Greens who should have benefitted (and for whom I still reluctantly vote) cant make their minds up where they stand.

Tiger Mountain said...

…like totally…voting sux

sure our oppressors have gotten older, people that enjoyed free tertiary took it off later students and closed local hospitals by the score, but Bomber might realise that important social conditions and subjective consciousness have changed during 30 years of neo liberalism, young people are now highly likely to have an aspirational me me me, mine mine mine attitude

binding referenda and electronic voting seem ideas whose time has come too at first look, but we would likely have capital punishment back and our very own digital “hanging chads” debacle in short order without a lot of preparatory work, you would want to consider several electoral cycles of “civics education” before lowering the voting age

Chris Trotter said...

Only a lawyer could ask such a question, Mr Edgeler. Why do you think the upper classes resisted the granting of universal franchise for so long? How people are likely to vote, and whether they should be permitted to vote, are questions that are bound to be asked together - no matter how irrelevant they may be to the fundamental principles surrounding the right to vote.

Anonymous said...

All the political parties would run a mile from Martins proposal. It is absolute meaningless to pursue. I question his mental state.

Nolajo said...

I have less of a problem with the age at which people are entitled to vote and more of a problem with the ability of a government, of any colour, to pass legislation with a one vote majority when large parts of the electorate are opposed. To see public opinion ignored the moment a party is in power must be a huge turnoff. We don't really have a democracy, and maybe never did. Perhaps we should try a constitution which limits what government can do with a simple majority. Or how about a second chamber chosen purely by ballot similar to jury service?

Brendan McNeill said...

Dear GS

You said: "Given my last 20 years or so of experience with the teenage brain, I think there's a case for increasing the voting age."

It's so rare that we agree on anything, I wanted to take the opportunity to endorse your comments. :-)

Look, if we are going to give the vote to children, why stop at 16, heck I've met 12 year olds who outshine many people twice their age with their intelligence, insight and wit.

I still like the idea of 'no representation without taxation', so if you are a net tax payer, regardless of your age, you should be eligible to vote. This may disqualify an ocean of beneficiaries and possibly many of the lower paid, but if they are getting back from the State constantly more than they are contributing, then it's difficult to see how they might have justification for complaint.

Won't stop the complaints mind you.


pat said...

Greypower may take issue with your line of reasoning Brendan....perhaps restricting voting to those with a 3 digit IQ may be safer don't you think?

Bushbaptist said...

@ Brendan; Beneficiaries pay tax Brendan, so do the low paid workers. One can argue about their 'contribution to society' until the cows come home.

16years is too young to vote in my opinion, even 18 is debatable.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Brendan, you never disappoint :-) – still with the prevalent and often tortuous ways that many of the well off avoid paying taxes altogether, you might cut out more people than you think – including many people who would vote National. Still, it might encourage some of the well off to actually contribute. So well done.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

To be fair, he did say "net" taxpayer.

Patricia said...

Apparently one of the reasons for allowing 16 year olds to vote is to try and get more of the electorate to actually vote on Election Day. Civic classes at school would encourage those 16 year olds to vote and they would therefore encourage their parents to vote too. Currently not many 18 year olds, who have left school, vote and also few vote at 21. If they don't vote at three elections they never vote. I read that somewhere!

Nolajo said...

It seems to me that the only workable criterion is that every citizen over the requisite age is entitled to a vote, full stop. And I think that should include those behind bars. Another reason in favour a constitution limiting the power of government is that no government should be able to remove the right of a citizen to vote.

Victor said...


Intelligence is not what qualifies you to vote. My late and much lamented mog was rather more intelligent than many humans I know, yet lived her life unenfranchised. It's a moot point whether she should have been.

Richard Christie said...

I thought it was no taxation without representation, not vice versa.
Brendon gets it totally about-face. Why am I unsurprised?

Victor said...

t'other thing is that we all pay GST, which is regressive and payable when you purchase something and hence similar to the taxes that provoked the "no taxation without representation" shtich in the first place.

greywarbler said...

Beneficiaries contribute little or nothing? There is no reason why they couldn't be doing plenty through part-time work if the country hadn't been run down to such an extent that most of the useful jobs they could have done have been lost to overseas business. And many bennies are mothers, they have produced children, as your mother did. And who would want to question the worth of her work?

NZ has a nasty attitude that lurks in people's minds, a mean, grasping and limited approach linking respect to earnings of an individual.
This doesn't take in the wide interests of a modern advanced society with a strong commitment to fairness, and building capacity in an individual. NZs aren't allowed to make outrageous sexist, racist remarks now but they can all turn to a benny and kick her/him in the backside and feel virtuous because of the prevalence of this deplorable gene resulting in aberrant, vituperative behaviour.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"And who would want to question the worth of her work?"
Brendan does, regularly. I think he is an advocate of eugenics.