The PM says she personally supports lowering the voting age to 16, but the decision will be up to Parliament’s 120 MPs to decide.
Video / Mark Mitchell
A majority of Kiwis aged over 18 are opposed to lowering the voting age to 16, an exclusive poll conducted for the Herald has found.
While perhaps unsurprising given such a move would buck global
norms – aside from in a handful of countries – there was also little support for lowering the age of suffrage among young adults.
The strongest opposition came from those aged between 45 and 64.
However, the advocacy group Make It 16, which brought the issue to national attention, said they were still positive about growing momentum for their cause, stating historically people who can vote often aren’t in favour of extending the right to those who can’t.
The poll came after the issue hit the news last Monday when the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Make It 16 and declared the current voting age of 18 was inconsistent with the Bill of Rights, namely the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of age, and that these inconsistencies had not been justified.
The Government, which ultimately decides the law, is required to respond to such judgments and Parliament debate them.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that the Government would introduce legislation with a proposal to lower the age of voting to 16 for the whole of Parliament to consider before the middle of next year.
The case has led to wide public debate. Sixteen and 17-year-olds can have sex, pay taxes, consent to medical care and even get an adult passport.
Meanwhile, 18 is when people can get married (without consent of parents or guardians), drink alcohol and serve in the military, among other things.
The poll, by Dynata, was conducted shortly after the issue hit the news – between November 24 and 28 – with a sample of 1000 people aged over 18.
The polling system was designed for people aged over 18 and expanding it to 16 and 17-year-olds wasn’t possible in the time available, the company said.
It found 79 per cent were opposed to lowering the voting age, with 21 per cent in support.
Among 18 to 24-year-olds, 69 per cent were opposed and 31 per cent in favour.
The strongest opposition came from the 55-64 age group, at 88 per cent, followed by 45-54 at 85 per cent.
While opposition appeared to increase with age, those aged over 65 were slightly more sympathetic to the cause, with 81 per cent opposed.
Make It 16 was set up in 2019 amid the School Strikes for Climate initially to find an avenue to give young people more of a say.
Co-director Sanat Singh said they were “not shy” of the fact there existed strong opposition to the idea.
“Since 1974, culturally the idea is that 18 is the voting age. We all grew up with it.”
But his counter was that democracy needed to adapt to the challenges the world and its people faced.
“The challenges and decisions being made about them are going to have disproportionate impacts on future generations.”
Singh said the opposition was not surprising, but he felt it would change over time.
“If they’d done a referendum on whether women should vote at the time, sampling only the male voting population, I don’t think would have supported it.”
He said in Scotland, where they lowered the voting age in local elections, about 65 to 70 per cent were initially opposed but now it was well accepted.
Singh said it was positive to see a higher proportion of MPs in favour of the change, and even a strong majority to lower it at the local election level.
Ardern has said she was in favour of lowering the voting age, as are many of her Labour caucus colleagues, the Green Party and Te Pāti Māori.
Amending the voting for the general election however requires amending electoral law, which is entrenched. That requires the support of a referendum or super-majority of 75 per cent in Parliament, meaning with National and Act currently opposed change appears unlikely.
Changing the law for local elections however only requires a simple 50 per cent majority, meaning based on current MP positions it could pass.
A spokesman for Ardern said the Labour Party was treating the issue as a personal vote, and so had no comment on the poll results.
National Party justice spokesman Paul Goldsmith said he thought the results demonstrated the “instinctive wisdom of Kiwis”.
“It also reinforces for most people it is a non-issue. There is nothing wrong with the 16 and 17-year-olds having a go [at changing the law], but you have to draw the line somewhere and 18 seems reasonable.”
New Zealand Principals’ Federation president Dr Cherie Taylor-Patel said she was personally in favour of lowering the voting age.
“Some of those 16- and 17-year-olds have left school and are working – they should be able to vote.
“And for those at school, it is a wonderful opportunity to make civics a significant part of the curriculum.
“Overseas they’ve found when students are engaged in the voting process they often go on to be lifelong voters.”
Taylor-Patel said she thought some of those opposed could be thinking about their own experience at 16.
“There has not been a lot of focus on civics. But there are some amazing thinkers in our school system that bring a lot of care and critical thinking.”
Currently, only a small – but growing – group of countries allow voting under the age of 18, including Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Austria and Malta from 16 and older. In Scotland and Wales, 16-year-olds can vote in local but not the UK general elections.
An independent panel is currently reviewing the Electoral Act and issues such as the voter age, donations, 5 per cent party threshold and length of parliamentary terms. It is expected to issue recommendations in May and a final report by the end of next year.
The voting age in New Zealand was lowered from 21 to 20 in 1969, and then to 18 in 1974. At each stage, it had the full support of Parliament and was in line with legislative changes across the globe.