Survey reveals support for giving political voice to teens

A Victoria University of Wellington researcher is part of a trans-Tasman survey that has found significant support for giving teenagers aged 15 to 18 opportunities to be included in politics.

Victoria’s Associate Professor Jenny Ritchie from the School of Education and Dr Louise Phillips from The University of Queensland (UQ) commissioned a question to be added to the 2016 Australian and New Zealand versions of the International Social Survey Programme. UQ sociologist and data analyst Dr Francisco Perales joined them to analyse the data.

The question asked survey participants to rate how strongly they agreed or disagreed with providing opportunities for children and youth to influence government decisions. Opportunities for political inclusion could include being involved in public consultations and inquiries, city councils’ children’s and youth policies, youth parliamentary representatives and having the right to vote.

The survey divided youth and children into four age categories. Providing political inclusion to the oldest age group, 15-18 years, received significant support. In New Zealand, 64 percent of respondents supported opportunities for this age group to influence government decisions. Support rose to 72 percent amongst Australian respondents.

In their original article, the researchers reported that today’s young people are largely excluded from consultation processes and unable to contribute to government decision-making.

“Western models for citizenship participation that we see in New Zealand and Australia have been designed by, and for, adults. The default position in social and political theory is to disregard children altogether, or to consider them as learner-citizens.

“But research consistently demonstrates that when children and young people have opportunities for active citizenship, they demonstrate a wide range of ways of contributing to their communities. This includes through activities such as looking after local environments, organising public meetings, writing letters and organising petitions,” they said.

The researchers also analysed the demographic profile of those who supported giving young people a political voice and found they were more likely to be female, with a higher education and tended to vote for left-of-centre political parties.

In the New Zealand survey, Māori respondents were more likely to support political inclusion for the younger age groups of 3-5 years and 6-10 years.

Associate Professor Ritchie says the responses to the survey question demonstrate “considerable public support for giving teenagers greater political voice, and one effective way to do this is to lower the voting age. I think it’s time our political representatives and the community started discussing this as a possibility.”

She also points to New Zealand and Australia’s obligations as signatories to the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child and Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“Under the UN Convention, children are granted the right to freely express their views in all matters affecting them, while the Declaration recognises the State’s obligation to uphold the rights of indigenous children.

“These surveys highlight the need for wider conversations to educate our communities about the rights of children, even young children, to be included in decision-making that affects their lives and wellbeing,” she says.

More detailed information about the survey and the survey results can be found in the researchers’ article in The Conversation.