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Improves Democracy and Voting Habits

Voting for the first time at age 16 allows young voters to establish their voting habits in a stable environment with their familial support system, thereby creating lifelong voters and improving voter turnout and registration. How? Keep reading!

The problem

Low voter turnout across the U.S. and in younger demographics. In Figure 1 below, it can be seen that voter turnout in the 2016 presidential election was the lowest it's been since 1996.

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Figure 1: Voter turnout rates from 1996-2016 among Democrats, Republicans, and overall. Source: CNN 

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Figure 2: Voter turnout rates from 1960-2016 for various age groups. Voter turnout is the lowest for 18 to 29 year olds, as represented by the orange line. Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Voter turnout is even more abysmal for the lowest voting block — 18 to 29 years old — shown in the graph above.

Voter turnout is decreasing across the U.S. for all age groups, but especially for the youngest demographic. As voter turnout is an indicator for the health of democracies, the low voter turnout currently present in U.S. society is concerning for the future of our country. In fact, the U.S. is currently rated a “flawed democracy” and #25 on the Economist’s democracy index, with a rating of 7.96.

How is lowering the voting age to 16 a part of the solution?

As stated by Eric Pultzer in his study “Becoming a Habitual Voter: Inertia, Resources, and Growth in Young Adulthood” and in “Leaving the Nest and the Social Act of Voting: Turnout among First-Time Voters” by Yosef Bhatti and Ksper M. Hansen, voting is a social act. Individuals tend to vote in groups, and those who you are around tend to influence whether or not you will turnout to vote. In fact, as stated by Pulzter, “The primary social network the citizen is engaged in heavily influences whether she turns out or not.” These social networks include the family and the educational system.

At age 16

The majority of students are living at home with their parents/guardians in a stable environment. As demonstrated by the fact that older generations generally have higher voter turnout rates than younger age groups, 16- and 17-year-olds’ parents most likely have established, regular voting habits. This means that young voters' primary socialization factors are their parents, who will impart a positive influence upon their civic engagement.

At age 18

18-year-olds are generally in a transitional period of their lives. Many new voters are moving away from home to attend college or to enter into the workforce. During this transition, their primary socialization factors switch from their parents to their peer group who have not yet established their voting habits, making it more difficult to become a regular voter.

Figure 3 depicts the predicted probabilities of voter turnout in varying parental and housing situations. Along the X axis, there are many different living situations. The Y axis demonstrates predicted probability of turnout. Finally, the key indicates the parental voting habits. For females, voter turnout increases from 56% — when the student doesn’t live with parents — to 73% when they do. A similar trend can be seen for males, with a 51% to 69% increase.

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Figure 3 corroborates the idea that voting is a social act, and that those who live with their parents are much more likely to turnout to vote. As students are more likely to be living with their parents at age 16 than age 18, voter turnout rates would be much higher at age 16 than at age 18.

What is the importance of voting in one's first election?

This question can be answered by examining another characteristic of voting. The idea that voting is habitual. Eric Pultzer (author of “Becoming a Habitual Voter: Inertia, Resources, and Growth in Young Adulthood”) expands on this idea by coming up with the idea of voter inertia. He states that when one votes in their first election, they are more likely to become a habitual voter and vote in subsequent elections. However, if one does not vote in their first election, they are more likely to become a habitual non-voter. The idea of voter inertia illustrates the importance of turning out to vote in one’s first election on their voting habits.

It is important to note that:

“Once voters are on the path of regular voting, factors that were once important (parental influences, educational attainment) diminish” - Pulzter

This means that once students have voted for the first time with the aid of socialization factors such as parental influences, they can carry on these voting habits in the absence of these factors. If students can vote for the first time at age 16 in the presence of these socialization factors, they will be able continue voting once they have left the house and are surrounded by their peer group. 

How does this help solve low voter turnout?

As shown in above in “The Problem We Are Trying to Solve Section,” voter turnout among the youngest demographic is extremely low. However, if given the chance to establish their voting habits before leaving the house — at age 16 on a local level —  young adults could become hautual voters, thereby increasing overall voter turnout. 
This is a community wide effort. Palo Alto as a community prides ourselves in our educated and informed citizens and youth, those who contribute to our community and the world beyond. We as a community can take this a step further by increasing our youth voter turnout rates through lowering the voting age to 16.

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