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Votin is lyk soooo kool! lol! by underground

Austria became the first EU country to drop the voting age to 16, in a move to counteract the influence of the country’s aging population. The new voters will be given their first taste of democracy this weekend, granted the right to vote in the country’s general election, which is forecast to be a close race. The move to allow 16 and 17-year-olds to vote has been controversial and provoked criticism from many who believe the young people do not know enough to vote. Even many young voters do not believe they are ready to participate in democracy.

“I don’t agree with the idea of teenagers of my age being given the right to vote,” said Julia Tauschek, a 16-year-old high school pupil from the Austrian town of Linz yesterday. “We simply don’t know enough about politics and we are not taught much about them at school either.” (From the Independent)

But doesn’t involving young people in the democratic process encourage them to become politically aware? And since when are older people so politically knowledgeable? Are some voters not already suffering from political amnesia when they refer to the ’90s?

According to the Independent, Austrian media interviews with a random selection of 16-year-olds yesterday, produced very mixed results.

Linz schoolgirl Julia Tauschek complained that her knowledge of Austrian politics was limited to what her mother had told her and to a background briefing on politics given during a two-hour history lesson at her school earlier this week.

Matthias Schrammel, 16, a first year pupil at a Vienna business school said that he looked forward to voting on Sunday because he wanted to “influence politics”. But he also complained that many of his contemporaries were ill informed and would probably end up “putting a cross on their favourite colour” once inside the voting booth. (From the Independent)

These criticisms are fair, but should not be made exclusively to young voters. How much do regular voters think about their vote before they tick a box? How many voters make their mind up in the polling booth, voting for the party with the best billboards, slogans, smiles, or logo? 

Everyone has the right to a political opinion and come election season people are keen to put forward their thoughts. But when you ask how someone intends to vote, how often can someone rationally justify their support for a particular party. It is either “I like that John Key”, with no reason given, or “Labour have had their turn”, as though leading the country is a job that should be rotated like washing up duties at a school camp. Or the commonly heard “Labour have fucked up the country”, but when pressed to explain how they have done this you either get no response (“they just have!”), or they cite an example of a law or policy that was enacted during the ’90s when National were in power.

So what reason can be given for not allowing younger people to vote when older voters are so willingly misinformed? 16-year-olds can be taxed, go to war and die for their country, but not vote for the government who takes their money or send them off to war. And many young people are very politically aware, more so then their parents may be.

The most important thing for democracy is that voters are informed. And for the majority of the population the media is the means for getting vital information. But is the media currently doing a good enough job? Emphasis is all too often on personality (although this coverage can be important), and polls (which I don’t think is ever important!) and not on policy. This is because it is much harder to explain to the public and much less interesting than political squabbles and horse race coverage.

If the voting age was lowered, don’t expect a flood of uninformed “yoofs” marching to the polling stations every three years. Voting turnout for young people is low as it is. But if the age was lowered, political classes should also be brought in, like a civics class, to get young people involved and informed about policies, the parties, ideologies and the history of politics in New Zealand. It would not take much to make the under 18s the most informed voting demographic in country!

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