Will no one rid us of these turnout nerds?

  1. “Higher turnout” is the worst possible reason for meddling with a voting system – and alas, the most-commonly cited one. The only valid reason is “better government” – but like Duhaime, most activists realize that for them “better government” is too transparently code for “governmnent that I would like better.” 

    • Well the obvious argument is that extending the franchise leads to “better government” in that it is more responsive to the desires of those who are governed.

      And of course school-age children are just about the most governed people of all (and those with the most to lose from bad governance, from poverty issues to deficit spending).

      • And infants are governed in exactly the same regard.

        • Um no they aren’t. Infants aren’t conisdered criminally repsonsible but 16 year olds are. Infants aren’t compelled to attend educational institutes during specific hours of the day. There are no graduated drivers license rules for infants or adults but most provinces have them for 16 yedar olds.

        • So, why not let their legal guardians exercise the infant’s voting right.  Hey, if a regency is good enough for infant kings & queens, it’s good enough for the minority Jane & Joe Two-Fours of Canada. 

        • My Lab just informed me that he is among the most governed groups in the country.  Told to sit, heel, lie down, stay, come etc.  He is really pissed that he has no say in his governance.  

          In his defense, he is usually pretty easy going, but the Kheiriddin column yesterday got him all riled up. 

  2. “I’m a leading ridiculer of this idea, partly because the same people who propose it are the same nerds who worry endlessly about low voter-turnout figures.”

    So it’s a bad idea because people who are wrong about something else entirely seem to like it?

    Sterling argument there, son.

    Good work on sussing out Duhaime’s bad argument with some actual data though. I agree entirely that arguments for lowering the voting age oughtn’t rest on some magical power of making people politicals for life.

    • Well, the word “partly” is right in there. More importantly, the wrongness isn’t orthogonal: these people are complaining about X while simultaneously favouring Y, which is a major cause of X.

  3. Duhaime’s statement is idiotic and you were very easy on him.

    According to his logic, perhaps we should allow 5-year-olds to vote. 

    The typical 16 year old has zero interest in politics, and that’s perfectly normal.  They’re interested in boys/girls, friends, sports, and their future college and/or profession.  To think that the typical 16 year old will change his/her interests just because of a new law is absurd. The reason young people don’t vote is because they have a million other concerns. Eventually as young people get older, politics gains greater prominence in their lives, and that’s perfectly normal. To try to deny this is like expecting pigs to fly.

    •  a 16 year old has a social studies class.  In which their attention will be called to politics and issues.  By the time they reach 18 there’ll be no such external influence.  I’m not sure that adding in a vote while they’re still of school age would make them care longer, but it’s an interesting idea (and on this topic lowering the voting age to 12 or 13 to make sure an election cycle gets caught while they’re still in school would be the target).

      re: ‘solving’ voter turnout: two options 1) mandatory voting (yick) or 2) more politicians worth voting for (yea right) – lowering the voting age while interesting, ought to be considered a separate concept.

  4. Given that all people are more likely to vote as they age*, I think you need to do one more comparison, where you find out whether at the same ages the Youngs were voting in greater numbers than the Olds. I don’t know if those numbers are easily available, but hey, there’s an extra column in finding out!

    *Alternate theory: non-voters have shorter lives, and “exit” their cohorts earlier. I’m kidding. Unless it is true.

    • The literature I have looked at suggests that cohorts that started voting with an earlier voting age are less likely to vote, even at the same age. However, that may have taken place for other reasons, like declining levels of social capital in much of the western world, that roughly corresponded to reductions in the legal voting age. Indeed, that’s a big conundrum for any generational theory. Did the GI generation turn out to vote in big numbers because old people like to vote, or because they were civic-minded? I suspect that not every generation of  geezers will be quite like Abe Simpson. For instance, I’ve read that the Lost Generation was relatively cynical and non-conformist even as old people, much in contrast to the younger GI generation. 

    • I would guess it almost certainly is true! But not enough to make a difference to turnout between 50s and 60s.

  5. I’ll agree that voter turnout is a bad reason to lower the voting age. And indeed, the kinds of things that make people care about politics – paying taxes, holding down a job, etc. – tend to happen later and later in life. If turnout were the only thing we cared about, we should raise the voting age.

    But I’m going to go out on a limb, and argue that there is a reason we should lower the voting age. We have a political system that is massively skewed towards old people. Healthcare spending is outpacing economic growth by a country mile, and yet any reform is heresy. Even the kind of minimal tinkering with social security proposed by Harper is politically dangerous, and in many other countries, they’re willing to go broke because they know seniors vote in large numbers.

    Seniors are wise and young people are idiots, but seniors are worse voters. Why? Well as Keynes said, in the long-run we are all dead, but in the case of seniors that’s more like the short/medium run.  Fixing the environment, investing in a good system of education, implementing policies that promote long-term economic growth and engaging in fiscal prudence are all policies with short-term costs and long-term benefits. These are precisely the kind of things that get thrown by the wayside in favour of less productive spending on social security and healthcare. 

    This has also reinforced an economic system that is massively skewed against young workers. Government policies across the western world promote home-ownership – this is a boon to those that already have some equity, but shuts many younger people out of the housing market. Governments have dispensed much money to bail out enterprises, preventing layoffs. Yet very little has been done to address persistent youth unemployment (which is in the double-digits). Most people who already had jobs were fine during the financial crisis of 2008, while new hires dropped precipitously (by 40% in my field). Financial deregulation has been great for people that have equity upon which they earn high returns, while young people pay the price when resultant financial crises freeze up capital markets and new hires.

    What we’ve done is established policies that redistribute people’s lifetime earnings till later in life. This has a number of profoundly negative consequences. For parents it means the oft-maligned “failure to launch” phenomenon (it ain’t cause your cooking with cheese). For young people it means years of uncertainty and anxiety – at the time when people make important decisions, like whether to have families. Since the financial crisis, fertility rates – which were on the rise for the first time in decades – plummeted. It also means that young people end up taking on debt in years when they should be starting up nest eggs. Where once interest worked for young savers, today it merely extends the tentacles of fico and big banks ever deeper into our lives.

    Giving 16 year olds the vote wouldn’t fix these problems alone. Few would vote, and many – insulated from economic reality – would squander their votes. However, it would expand the representation of a group that is underrepresented in politics today. This is a group whose natural interest is in policies that benefit this country over the long-run, instead of geezers who have no such incentives.

    • I can’t believe how completely I agree with this comment.  Because that is unusual for me with you, although I don’t always disagree completely. :)  But you nailed it this time!

    • You don’t appear to recognize the existence of children and grandchildren. Most 80-year-olds with a brace of descendants must sincerely have a more distant time-horizon, and less relative concern for the immediate future, than a childless 40-year-old.

      • A. Female fertility peaks in the early/mid 20’s, and the likelihood of infertility spikes especially rapidly after 35. We will have a lot more childless 40-year olds if we maintain a system in which the window for people to BOTH afford to have children and be biologically capable of having children is small. 
        B. Obviously old people care somewhat about life after they die. However, one would be hard-pressed to argue that they care MORE than young people themselves.  C. 40-year olds (childless or otherwise) are reasonably represented by the status quo, politically. It is young people that are underrepresented and old people that are over-represented. And you’d be hard-pressed to argue that the average 25 year old’s interests reflect a longer-time horizon than the average 65 year old (much less even older voters). 

        • Sorry, are you trying to argue that 25-year-olds are especially prescient, aware of their long-term interests, and future-oriented? Why do I sense that even 25-year-olds would be skeptical of this?
          I do think that seniors are better at voting their personal interests and that in many cases these interests involve defending mountains of piled-up wealth and screwing later generations. But, to make the same kind of argument I made against Duhaime, can you show that lowering the voting age in 1970 made our politics less gerontocratic? Those young voters somehow failed to prevent a decade-long Binge Era for old-age security arrangements and public-sector collective bargaining (with subsequent effects on the generosity/solvency of public-sector pensions).

  6. Off-hand, I’ll throw out another idea that I think can accomplish the goal of lowering the voting age (improving the representation of young people) without some of the costs. So what if we weighted votes by age cohort? If turnout among people 18-25 is 50%, their votes count double. If turnout among voters 65+ is 100%, their votes count as 1 each. 

    Presumably, the reason we have a democracy is that we believe policy should be reflective of the interests of constituents. But the reality is that understanding one’s interests and understanding politics takes time, so we can’t expect young people to vote in the same numbers as old people. That doesn’t mean, however, that they are less important.

    I should add that this is, if anything, a conservative policy for addressing inter-generational unfairness. It is often argued that young people don’t have a real stake in government because they don’t have jobs or pay taxes. But the reality is that most decisions made today will affect them far more than somebody that is say, 80 years old. Through age-weighted voting we can reduce this distinction in representation, without the problem of having large numbers of voters (ie. 16 year olds or 5 year olds or whatever) mucking up the system. 

    • Interesting idea.  It rather flies in the face of our democratic thinking (one person, one vote) but Canada has never had a true one person, one vote system (ridings of 56,000 vs. ridings of 160,000) so that issue should be overcome-able.  There might be a regional unbalancing though, and you’d for sure run into trouble if that was the case.  Still, worth looking at.

      • It would violate one person one vote obviously, but regional disparities would depend upon whether riding boundaries were drawn up based on age-weighted population or population. If the latter, you wouldn’t have regional disparities – a riding in Western Newfoundland where net emigration is common and say, Richmond Hill where net immigration is common would still be equal. However, within each, the median voter targeted by politicians would be somewhat younger than under the status quo. 

      • ridings of 56,000 vs. ridings of 160,000 

        Not to be pedantic, but just for the sake of the complete disclosure of information, our smallest federal riding is actually made up of about 27,000 people, and our largest is home to over 170,000.

        • Crap!  And I thought I was exaggerating.

    • Since we’re just blue skying here I’ll let the obvious Charter violation slide, but I think what you’re saying in your second paragraph is young people can’t be expected to have the experience to cast as informed a vote as older voters, and on that basis their votes should carry more weight? Seems like you’re almost making a case for the opposite, that we phase voting in, as in 0-18 you get 0 votes, 18-25 a fraction of a vote, and bigger until you hit let’s say 50 and you get a full vote from here on out. As a bonus this should be a popular one to run on among those most likely to vote, if you’re ever inclined.

      I’m of the non-participation is participation camp, so young voters ARE making their choice, the choice to defer the decision to someone else, and it’s a choice far more short sighted than that older voters are being accused of making.

      • I think many people overvalue the usefulness of “informed votes”. Even idiots can use heuristics that enable them to vote pretty close to their actual interests (eg. using endorsements to guide their choice instead of studying policy positions of candidates). The real value of a vote is that it enlarges the importance of “people like you” for politicians. 

        And anyway, a premise of any democracy is that the system remains agnostic about what represent legitimate and illegitimate desires of the electorate. This is why the “it’s probably good that young people don’t vote because they’re dumb” line is unconvincing to me. Also age-weighted voting doesn’t eliminate the ability of non-voters to make their non-choice. It merely changes the nature of their non-choice – from deferring to the population at large to deferring to members of their own age cohort. 

        • And regardless of what effect this has on voting patterns, it’s an interesting idea because it gives incentives for the politicians to structure policies toward younger voters — ie, more toward the long-term health of the country.

          This strikes me as an excellent out-of-the-box idea.  Damn tough to get implemented — especially considering the current voting patterns, but still, very nice, very original thinking. Kudos.

          • a better idea might have been…oh i don’t know, an electoral per vote subsidy that encouraged all parties to run candidates in all ridings in order to chase those votes and dollars, even young ones? Wonder if we’ll ever get one?

          • Except the effects of this are significantly muted so long as private funding capability is retained.

          • Not sure I follow. Relying soley on private donors makes the system
            Even more parochial, if anything, no?

          • Yes, but until private funding is eliminated it’s far easier to raise funds by specifically targeting niche groups (and even more specifically, by targeting their fears) than by appealing to broad swathes of the electorate.

          • Okydoke, with you now.

    • Now you are going to start rewarding young adults for not taking their rightful place as a responsible member of society by weighting their vote higher?  This will not work?  Why?  For the same reason that it does not work to reward a person for doing what in itself should be a “rewarding activity”.  For instance, you do not reward a person for getting high marks because the real reward is the self satisfaction gleaned from getting the good grade…you are proud of yourself because you earned it. 

    •  That would start a slippery slope where interest groups attempt to change the system so their own votes count more.  Once you break the one-person one-vote principle, there is no end to where it may lead. 

  7. irregardless of turnout, if the voting age is lowered and and the younger people who want to vote do and the ones who don’t don’t, I see no harm in that.

    • So do you think we should let 5 year olds vote if they want to?

  8. It’s possible the opposite is true. A stock column a few years ago was to run a picture of a purple fingered Iraqi above an op-ed declaring that we take our sacred democratic rights for granted. So I propose that at each election, the government draw a gender, ethnicity, or age bracket out of a hat and disenfranchise them. I expect they will learn their lesson and turn out in greater numbers from then on.

    • I totally agree.  Nothing got me involved in politics–until I was told I couldn’t vote.

    • Maybe people have a limited tolerance of political BS. Early voting eligibility wears it out faster.

      Without data one way or another, my hypothesis is equally plausible as the “civil engagement” argument.

  9. Why should we want a greater voter turnout by people of any age who have only marginal knowledge of (or interest in) political issues?  Their whims can overwhelm the votes of more engaged citizens.  

  10. I think people should allow to vote once they get their first job and start paying taxes. If government takes your money, you should have say in how it’s spent. 

    Left wing types are keen to lower voting age to 12 or whatever because they know that’s where the left wing people are and we become less socialist as we mature. 

    • Nothing finer than disenfranchising the thousands of elderly women who’ve not held down a job in their lives.

      • Not to mention the people who because of severe disabilities cannot work or even mothers who chose to stay at home; students who go to university right after highschool, etc.

    • “Left wing types are keen to lower voting age…” How then do you explain Duhaime’s column, which started this whole discussion here? QMI columnists (with the token exception of prominent Liberal Warren Kinsella, who while not truly leftist is certainly more centrist than the others) are far from left wing. Most of them are somewhere to the right of Ghenghis Khan.

  11. Edit: Ryan beat me in making the following point.

    If the argument to expand the voting pool is forwarded as a remedy to our (supposed) democratic woes, does it not behoove one to explore the inverse proposition of reducing the pool of people eligible to vote as being a possible remedy?  After all:

    Don’t it always seem to goThat you don’t know what you’ve got’Til it’s gone”

    J. Mitchell*

    * I am not Joni Mitchell.  I am quoting.

  12. Lets go look up a more general definition of political engagement. What are the statistics for the age groups involved in non-profits and charities? They are the exact opposite of voter turnout. So maybe the problem is that we care quite a bit – enough to know something in fundamentally wrong.

  13. From the comments on here, I am going to go out on a limb and say that none of you who are in favor of lowering the voting age has a 16 year old.  If you want to increase the number of 18 to 25 year olds voting you will have to change the way we vote….let them vote by “texting” or e-mailing.   We talk about raising the age of OAS due to increased life-span, well I am here to tell you as a parent of a teenager that the maturity of children has decreased, not increased with the passage of time.  According to some of the psychiatrists I know, the human brain does not mature until age 25.  Funny, when I was a kid in the 70’s it matured at age 18 or at least that’s when we got the set of luggage and were shown the door.

    • The Atlantic ~ July 2011 ~ How To Land Your Kid In Therapy:

      My parents certainly wanted me to be happy, and my grandparents wanted my parents to be happy too. What seems to have changed in recent years, though, is the way we think about and define happiness, both for our children and for ourselves.

      “Happiness as a byproduct of living your life is a great thing,” Barry Schwartz, a professor of social theory at Swarthmore College, told me. “But happiness as a goal is a recipe for disaster.” It’s precisely this goal, though, that many modern parents focus on obsessively—only to see it backfire. Observing this phenomenon, my colleagues and I began to wonder: Could it be that by protecting our kids from unhappiness as children, we’re depriving them of happiness as adults?

      According to Twenge, indicators of self-esteem have risen consistently since the 1980s among middle-school, high-school, and college students. But, she says, what starts off as healthy self-esteem can quickly morph into an inflated view of oneself—a self-absorption and sense of entitlement that looks a lot like narcissism. In fact, rates of narcissism among college students have increased right along with self-esteem.

      Today, Wendy Mogel says, “every child is either learning-disabled, gifted, or both—there’s no curve left, no average.” When she first started doing psychological testing, in the 1980s, she would dread having to tell parents that their child had a learning disability. But now, she says, parents would prefer to believe that their child has a learning disability that explains any less-than-stellar performance, rather than have their child be perceived as simply average. “They believe that ‘average’ is bad for self-esteem.”

      • What is truly bad for self-esteem is robbing a person of their independance.  Sure it makes a parent feel good to continue parenting until the “kid’ is 30 years old but it doesn’t do anything for the “kid’s” morale to be dependant way longer than they should be.

  14. I’m using this as an example of hypothesis testing in my stats class today.
    But I’ll do a t-test in addition to what you’ve done (using the n’s from your note).
    Thanks.  Its great to come across a numerically literate reporter.