Labour Party leader Ed Miliband has pledged to bring the voting age in the UK down to 16 if his party is elected next year.
In his speech to the Labour Party national conference in Manchester yesterday, Miliband told attendees “it is time to hear the voice of young people in our politics so we will give the vote to 16- and 17-year-olds in general elections.” Reiterating his commitment in an interview with Sky News on Wednesday he said:
I think the Scottish referendum taught us many things, but one of the things it taught us was that giving the vote to 16 and 17 year olds is the right thing to do partly because it’s so important for our democracy. But what we need to do is accompany that with the right citizenship education.
Although shifting the voting age to allow young people to have a bigger voice in British politics is likely to meet strong support in many places, critics will point out that Labour traditionally enjoys a larger share of support from younger voters than either the Conservatives or Liberal Democrats. According to Ipsos MORI research Labour enjoys a comfortable lead among young people currently eligible to vote:
In fact, as Ipsos MORI points out, over recent years there have been signs of a “significant generational dispersal” of Labour support as support for the party from Generation Y has risen while support from the pre-war generation has been falling away. This provides a strong incentive for a Labour leader to push for a younger electorate — and a equally strong incentive for its political rivals to resist it.
The fundamental problem is that applying any age restrictions to the right to vote is inherently arbitrary. This means that it is easy to construct an argument for increasing the share of the population that is eligible to vote, but very difficult to justify exactly where the new line ought to be drawn. Why not 17 instead of 16?
Most importantly, as suggested by the charts above, if the campaign to move the voting age would plausibly give political advantage to Labour it leaves Miliband open to the accusation of demographic gerrymandering.
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