Old People Shouldn’t Vote

Written by Joanne Jacobs

March 25, 2019

Over the last few weeks youth around the world have been well and truly stepping up to the plate: making their voices heard and making a visceral call to older generations to consider their future.

Whether it was the climate change demonstrations, or Eggboi’s one-man demonstration, it’s becoming obvious that youth not just should have, but deserve, a seat at the political decision-making table. It seems abundantly clear that climate change is going to affect those who are under 18 today to a degree (hopefully not four to five degrees), much greater than our Australian parliament with an average age of 51 (and if you think that’s old, the average age of a US senator is 62 – connect the dots you will there).

Which begs the question: if people under 20 have the greatest interest in addressing climate change (amongst myriad issues that have long-term effects) then why should those who have no invested interest in the future have a say in it?

Indeed it seems an injustice for youth not to establish an upper-age limit for voting. There are arguably (and as demonstrated across Australia over the last few weeks!), incredibly switched-on people under 18, who cannot vote, however in 2018 there were around 4 million voting Australians aged 65 and over (15% of the population) – a proportion which is only increasing with the aging baby boomer generation. In fact, the 2018 figure is projected to more than double by 2050. That would be 22% of the population effectively voting with a short-focus lens attached to their reading glasses.

In developed countries it’s common for a mandatory retirement for judges at 70 or 75 – this is because early dementia and cognitive decline are very difficult to detect on your own and the gravity of a judge’s decisions is unarguable. Yet the elderly can vote – and in numbers that potentially have enormous influence on election and referendum outcomes.

Perhaps, it could be argued, there should be no upper age limit for voting, because of the valuable nature of life experience (something much younger people obviously have less of). But it can also be argued that experience and time create ingrained biases and a propensity for repetitive behaviour and thought-patterns, resulting in a less-flexible mind (closed to new developments and new evidence). It’s why older people are more traditionally conservative and often polarised (‘I just know what’s right and wrong’).

In fact, in a world where social media is being blamed for political extremism to political apathy, it’s actually the demographic who use social media the least – that is, the over 60s – who are growing even more politically polarised.

Older people are less likely to vote for progressive policies. In surveys in the U.S. and the U.K people over 65 are nearly twice as likely to be against same-sex marriage, to be pro-Brexit, and five times less likely to prioritise budget spending on education.

Graph of age brackets and the money lost to scams, and the number of scams reported

Money lost to scams, and scams reported by demographic in Australia

Combine this factor with statistics that show it’s the over 65s who lose the most money to scams (they’re clearly the easiest demographic to con, yet it would appear they also make fewer reports, than say the internet-savvy 18 to 24 age bracket) – and get scared.

Time to consider capping the voting age: and to ask ‘should people get to vote if they won’t face the consequences?’ The dead shouldn’t hold dominion over the living.

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  1. Leah Mac

    A very interesting proposal and one I’m sure that some people would consider reasonable. But I’m wondering where we put the limit/line on when people are entitle to exercise a right in the democratic process. If the elderly are considered too conservative or short term focused, do we then limit people who we consider not well informed enough to make a “reasonable” decision. Or what about the arguments given by the establishment in the 19th century for not allowing women or working class men a vote, as they would just not understand things of a political nature.

    There are progressives and conservatives, informed and ill-informed, aware and unaware people in all demographics. Instead of limiting rights based an arbitrary age limit should we not focus more on educating and informing all?

  2. Ric

    Logan’s Run, anyone? 🙂

    The problem with this thought (beyond its generalisation) is that it assumes that conservatism in the aged is a fait accompli, where in actual fact it may have more to do with the mores and societal standards in play when those old people were young themselves. Think of western society when the current over-65s were 15 … is it the same societal attitudes and norms that today’s 15 year-olds live in?

    When I was 15 we were in the streets protesting against the Vietnam War … and I supported marriage equality, and believe that climate change is an existential crisis that needs urgent action. When the kids who marched for climate action recently turn 65, I suspect that a large proportion will feel the same way about those issues (but may still be unpopular with their grandchildren 🙂 ).

    I also think it’s dangerous to assume that older people have no interest in the future … most will have children and grand-children whose future is of great concern to them.

    What you are looking at, I believe, is a snapshot in time of particular age cohorts who are all influenced by their societal and educational experiences (or lack of). In 50 years time, the issues may have changed but the age cohorts at that point will probably have differing views on those issues that reflect *their* experience.

  3. Ric

    Sorry – I also meant to say that I *agree* that young people should have more say in issues that will affect their futures. I’m not sure that it takes the shape of adjusting minimum/maximum voting ages, or whether the threat that a significant number of kids in the climate action marches will be old enough to at the Federal election following this year’s is enough to jolt the “progressive” parties to become more so … 🙂