Many American teenagers will need to wait a couple more years before participating in the democratic process. Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) and her proposal to lower the voting age to 16 for presidential and congressional elections was overwhelmingly rejected by a vote of 125-302 (all Republicans and 92 Democrats voted against it). Many Democrats assert that 16-year-olds are engaged and can attain a driver’s license, while Republicans argue that people under 18 are treated as juveniles in court. Considering the old unattributed adage – if you’re not a liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 35, you have no brain – is this battle about political power at the ballot box?
Left Gains New Voters?
Contrary to popular opinion on the right, a broad array of surveys has found that today’s teenagers possess more left-leaning beliefs, a common characteristic for youth. For example, a 2019 Pew Research Center study discovered that most Generation Zers and millennials think that “government should do more to solve problems.” Such a sentiment contradicts the fundamental conservative and libertarian principle of “government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.”
If 16-year-olds were allowed to vote, it is safe to assume that many would vote Democrat rather than Republican. Therein lies the heart of this debate. For Democrats and Republicans, it is about securing or barring another segment of the voting class. It is comparable to allowing illegal immigrants to participate in the electoral process, knowing that most would support the Democratic contenders.
San Francisco could become the first major U.S. city to give 16- and 17-year-olds the right to vote in municipal elections. Other smaller cities, including Takoma Park, MD, have allowed younger people to contribute their voices to local elections.
Let’s face it: Democrats are already vulnerable heading into the 2022 mid-term elections and the 2024 presidential contest. Progressives can ensure they hold onto power by altering the system to permit an influx of new left-leaning voters. Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY), who introduced a constitutional amendment in 2018 to reduce the national voting age to 16, made it apparent in a statement that she appreciates the youth’s left-leaning positions:
“I’m always inspired by our nation’s youth who have demonstrated wisdom, maturity and passion on issues like social justice, gun control, and climate change. They are the leaders of our future and the decisions we make impact their lives every day. To capture their views and experiences, we must lower the voting age to 16 in all elections.”
Despite the political cynicism surrounding this issue, it still does ignite a worthy discussion.
The Case of the Low-Information Voter
Do U.S. elections need a fresh supply of uninformed voters? Over the years, studies have revealed that Americans’ knowledge of political issues falls short of what many would expect from a superpower. A 2020 Annenberg Civics Knowledge Survey learn that only 51% could name all three branches of government. A 2018 John Hopkins University survey found that a large number of Americans are unaware of how their state governments function or who represents them. A 2017 Haven Insights learned that a little more than one-third could identify their representative in the House. A 2016 Pew survey discovered that most respondents failed to identify the Senate’s makeup or know the number of female justices on the Supreme Court.
There is also the scientific factor in the debate. Remember? Listen to the Science (TM) has been the rallying cry of the left, over the last year. If that is the case, here is the University of Rochester Medical Center on the teen brain:
“The rational part of a teen’s brain isn’t fully developed and won’t be until age 25 or so. In fact, recent research has found that adult and teen brains work differently. Adults think with the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s rational part. This is the part of the brain that responds to situations with good judgment and an awareness of long-term consequences. Teens process information with the amygdala. This is the emotional part.”
Unfortunately, the U.S. political system has devolved into voters selecting a candidate based on the letter next to his or her name. And it is unlikely the majority of young whippersnappers will be anything different, especially considering that their schedules are more crammed than their older counterparts: studying, extracurricular activities, hanging out with friends, and playing Flappy Bird.
Society likes to think that the next generation will be the planet’s savior. No matter how more educated millennials and Generation Zers are, you cannot fault them for their disinterest in politics. Life is more than supporting politicians who engage in legalized larceny and pass 2,000-page bills without reading them. If 16-year-olds are more interested in TikTok videos and reading Søren Kierkegaard, let them be. Why make them miserable like the adults on social media who disown friends and family members, label their political opponents as enemies, or cancel people because they do not adhere to their political ideology?
Should Everyone Vote?
Voting goes against rational thought: a single vote rarely alters outcomes, sound logical arguments typically fail to persuade most voters, and some people only vote so they can tell others that they voted. Also, as author Emma Goldman wrote: “If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.” So, why is there this odd obsession with voter turnout rates and pushing as many people as possible to partake in their civic duty to pull a lever or push a button? As the studies highlight, there is an abundance of low-information voters out there, fueling the argument that there is more of a civic duty to stay home on Election Day.
In economics, people are always advised to choose their best option, even if that decision is morose. Lining up for three hours and voting or staying home and binge-watching Seinfeld episodes? Economist Bryan Caplan said it best: “But I refuse to traumatize myself for a one-in-a-million chance of moderately improving the quality of American governance. And one-in-a-million is grossly optimistic.”
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