With a new Liberal premier about to take over, and with a provincial election perhaps scheduled soon thereafter, the question has been raised whether the voting age should be lowered from 18 to 16.
MLA Mike de Jong, himself a candidate to become premier, wants this done. So do fellow candidate George Abbott and other public figures including BC Teachers Federation president Susan Lambert.
The major argument advanced is that such a change should improve voter turnout. The intent is commendable.
Unfortunately, all available evidence suggests that the result would be an even lower participation rate.
Perhaps the most thorough study of this question was undertaken following the June 28, 2004 Canadian election.
Susan Mohammad summarizes the evidence as follows: “According to Elections Canada, only about 22 per cent of voters aged 18-24 came out to vote in the last federal election.”
The overall turnout in that election was 60.9 per cent. If we eliminate the 18-24 age group, then the rate rises to about 67 percent.
It’s the seniors who tend to vote, typically between 75 and 85 per cent. It’s the youthful voters who drag down the percentage. All other research comes to the same conclusion.
The reasons why most of these young people would not vote are readily identified.
Most of them are still in school. Most do not have a regular job. Most don’t pay taxes in any significant way. Most don’t provide for their own accommodation.
Hardly any have established their own households.
With very few exceptions, they have not yet become stakeholders in society.
They are mainly consumers, not yet serious contributors.
We know from voluminous research that unless voters view themselves as affected stakeholders, most tend not to vote.
Several other factors should be noted. Most youths aged 16 to 18 are largely uninformed about politics.
In large part, this is the fault of the education system which, unfortunately, has long ago decided that civics courses have virtually no value.
The result has been near disastrous. As Parliamentary Librarian Marion Menard puts it, ”According to researchers, young people know little or nothing about the politicians and have no idea how the political institutions that run the country function.”
Let’s do all we can to get young people involved in politics, but giving high school students the vote won’t raise the average; it will lower it.
Such a move would be unwise.
John H. Redekop