The word “Millennials” has been tossed around much in the last decade. It is used to describe individuals born between 1980-2000 by other generations as they have closely watched this young portion of the population to see the direction our world is headed in. After being labeled as lazy, entitled, and addicted to technology, millennials have now been criticized for a loss of faith in democracy. First World countries known for their democratic systems have seen a decline in political participation from their youth.
The US, Poland, and Britain saw less than half of their under-25s come out and vote in the general elections in the past five years. The Census Bureau reported that only 41.2% of Americans between the age of 18 and 24 used their vote in the 2012 presidential election. One major issue that is becoming apparent is not just that the young vote is unheard, but that the elderly vote also overshadows it. The turnout of Americans 65 and older in the 2012 election was at 71.9%, the highest it’s been in a presidential election since 1992. But the political climate surrounding the most recent election was a lot different from that of the 2012 election. It will be interesting to see whether the data from the 2016 election continues this trend.
But some groups have already taken action to combat the lowering political activity of the younger Americans. FairVote and the National Youth Rights Association have spearheaded campaigns to lower the voting age. These types of groups believe that the voting age should be dropped down to 16 years old. The reasoning behind this change is that it will allow teens to practice the act of voting, which could restore faith in the democratic system.
Many political voices have pointed out a cynicism among millennials towards the act of voting. The Economist sees the low participation as a potential cause of this “skepticism towards democracy,” but it can be hard to tell whether this disbelief is a cause or symptom. No matter the cause, portions of the public are arguing for a lower voting age as a solution to this problem. Supporters for this change believe voting is a habit that needs to be developed early while the voter is still at home.
But questions are brought up about the knowledge of a 16 year old and the incentive for these kids to spend time to vote. It’s difficult to pinpoint the time in an individual’s life when they are “ready” to vote, because everybody develops in different ways. An episode of NPR’s “Brain Candy” presents research that points to evidence that suggests brain maturity may continue well beyond even the age of 18. This research then leads to the concern that very young voters may not be voting with opinions which aren’t their own. Obviously, voters do this in some sort of form no matter how old they are, but it seems a 16 year old would be only informed based on their household and community. There is some possibility that this lower voting age could create bigger social and political bubbles within the US. But in this moment a lack of passion for voting is present and becoming the forefront of the political climate.