I’m sure we’re all aware that the older you are, the more likely you are to vote, with the effect that politicians often ignore the needs of the young in favour of the old. After all, you’re always going to be more interested in the views of the people who can put you in power rather than the ones who won’t.
This gives us an odd situation where not only are one group’s views and interests favoured over others, that group is the one who’ll experience the least of any consequences from the decisions made by government. Your average first time voter will be around for 50 to 60 years after they’ve voted, living with the consequences of what’s been decided, while an older voter is only going to be around for a fraction of that time. Partly because of their own decision not to vote, those who’ll be affected the most by the decision in an election are likely to have the least influence on it.
What this also means is that governments and voters end up giving much more consideration to the short-term than the long term. Voters who are still going to be around in 30 or 40 years time and dealing with the long-term consequences of decisions made today count just the same as those who won’t be, and the different participation rates effectively make their views worth less in the process than older voters. There are potentially huge social, economic and especially environmental changes happening in that period, but they don’t feature in election campaigns. How many times did politicians talk about things after 2020 in the recent campaign, let alone the 2040s and beyond?
So here’s a thought experiment to try out – what if younger people’s votes counted for more in elections? Not just in terms of getting them to participate at the same rate or higher than older voters, but actually giving them more votes, with your number of votes tapering off as you get older? Everyone would still get a vote, but the power of it would drop as you get older and your stake in the future that’s being decided gets less. Say 18-25 year olds get five votes, 26-40 year olds get four, 40-50 year olds get three, from 50 to 65 you have two votes and finally just one vote if you’re over 65.
How would that effect elections and the way government worked? Would the prospect of a greater say mean the younger you were, the more likely you were to turn out? Would governments have to look more to the long term to get those votes, or would it just reverse the direction of short term pandering with the young getting a lot of freebies in the expectation that those too young to vote (or not even born) would foot the bill?