Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Should 16-Year-Olds Vote?

The answer is probably no, and yet there is a proposal to give 16- and 17-year-olds the franchise. Yes, it's California. Yes, even more, it's San Francisco. And yes, it's a resolution that would affect only municipal (local) elections. So why am I going prattling on about this? No reason except for this line deep in the story about Joshua Cardenas' proposal:
Cardenas' resolution cites studies claiming that "16-year-olds possess roughly the same political knowledge as 21-year-olds and come close to the average for all adults."
Talk about damning with faint praise, that they're as politically knowledgeable as a 21-year-old.

Yes, but just how knowledgeable are young adults? We can get to that one easily enough, thanks to Pew. See the table below, for example (full report here). On a few issues, younger adults do okay (minimum wage, poverty), but in general, not so much.

So saying 16 and 17 year olds are as knowledgeable as young adults, that's hardly a great selling point. Look at the Israeli prime minister question, or chair of the Federal Reserve.

But this begs the question -- are 16 year olds as knowledgeable as those a few years older who can vote?

The answer is -- we don't know. It's damn difficult to survey them, and even they are surveyed students are rarely asked the same questions as adults. So, again, we don't know. Most of the studies of high schoolers are very specific, often about civics knowledge, sometimes other kinds of knowledge, but again we rarely if ever see direct comparisons to adults. I'm looking for one. If you know of one, lemme know.


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