The Brexit voting age

By Sophie Rieckmann

Let’s face it. Brexit was something of a messy situation. The country divided itself into ‘In’ and ‘Out” (of the EU), and in come cases, families were divided too. I, myself, would have probably voted to remain, but I’m not wholly convinced that in doing so I would undoubtedly have been ‘right’.Popular complaints which came out of the recent Brexit vote were that the voting age should have been lowered to 16 and that ‘older’ people should not have been allowed to vote at all. In this blog, I shall try to address both arguments to see whether either scenario would have been feasible.

Firstly, the current voting age in the Uk in elections is set at 18. This is 2 years older than in Brazil, 3 years younger than in Fiji, and more liberty than you’ll ever be afforded in North Korea. So why did the British population take it upon themselves to suggest lowering the voting age for Brexit from 18 down to 16? Well, the main argument was that, whatever follows Brexit will have direct implications on the youngest members of our contemporary British society, thus, 16 year-olds should be allowed the vote. However, would this really have had an informed effect on the outcome of the vote? I don’t know about you, but I feel that being given that sort of voting responsibility at 16, whilst even adults struggled to decipher fact from scare-mongering, is a big responsibility. Just because it affects 16 year-olds doesn’t mean that they are informed enough to make the ‘right’ decision, especially if the British media and Politicians have anything to do with it. Perhaps, the general middle-class consensus was that 16 year-olds would vote to remain in the EU, but what about other demographics? Could you expect the same from a teenager  whose family relies on the NHS and was told that, if Britain left the EU that the NHS would receive several hundred million £ more on a weekly basis (Nigel Farage could not ensure this was definite, the morning the results came out)? Also, how many of us, teenager or not, really understand what our commitment to the EU was? I think that, with the amount of public confusion as to which vote was the ‘right’ vote, it is safe to say that lowering the voting age to 16 may not have made much of a difference, especially since 16 year-olds would probably, for the most part, vote the same way as their families or neighbourhoods. Besides, only around 36% of 18-24 year-olds chose to use the vote they had.

So what about the ‘older’ generations claim? When the results came through, many people felt as through the ‘older’generations had voted Britain out of the EU, and that this was unfair as they probably would not have to deal with the repercussions. So what would have happened if there had been a cap placed on the voting age? Would that have been fair? According to a study, over-65s were twice as likely to vote to leave the EU than under-25s. In the  65+ category, 64% voted to leave the EU. This went down marginally to 60% leave for those aged between 50 and 64. The majority for stay only began to appear in the age categories of 49 and under, suggesting that the younger generations are pro-EU. This is, of course, an average over the whole of Britain, and cannot be taken to represent everyone in those age brackets. However, as an average, one could see how people aged 18-49 might be slightly annoyed by the fact that the votes were tipped in favour of leave (on average) by those over the age of 50. This being said, does that simply mean that their input as to what the future of Britain should be is invalid? Of course not (democracy), and many people who voted to leave, including those in younger age brackets, did not do it ‘out of spite’ for younger generations (that was the bitter claim). For example, my Grandparents voted to remain in the EU, and their average age is 84. But some of my friends’ parents voted to leave, and they would fall into the 49 and younger bracket, and they had justified reasons for doing so. I think that, if anything, removing voting brackets out of the referendum may have had some effect on the vote tally, but that simply generalising the 65+ age group as ‘racist’ or ‘bitter’ is a crass statement to make.

All in all (perhaps I’m too traditional) I think that the voting age should not have been lowered to 16, nor should it have been capped at 65, as, although the leaving of the EU will have longer-term effects on the younger generations, if Cameron wanted their opinion only, he would have asked for their opinion only. In order to have a fully-functioning democracy, one must include all demographics and respect the overall result of their votes. Whether your family or friends voted in or out, we have a Brexit plan to assemble!

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