13 August 2009

Gerrymandering Votes at 16

Last week, a documentary on BBC Three looked into lowering the voting age to 16. The presenter mentioned that in 2005 (yes I know it's nearly four years ago, but I think this is interesting), the House of Commons voted to reject suffrage at 16 by just eight votes. Public Whip shows the following breakdown of this vote by the major parties:

Con107 (+2 tell) 3
Lab26 73
LDem0 45 (+2 tell)

So out of those who bothered to turn up (and Labour should be ashamed of their pathetic turnout) nearly all Tory MPs voted against and all Lib Dems voted in favour, with Labour also heavily leaning towards lowering the voting age.

Now lets look at a Yougov/Telegraph opinion poll (pdf) taken on the 22nd - 24th November 2005; just before this vote. The overall voting intentions were Con 35, Lab 37, Lib Dem 20. However if you look at the age breakdowns, in the 18-34 bracket (the lowest age group) the outcome changes to Con 31 (-4), Lab 43 (+6), Lib Dem 21 (+1). Assuming that 16-17s would follow the same pattern, this opinion poll shows that at the time it looked as if adding more young people to the electorate would harm the Tories, but boost Labour significantly and the Lib Dems a smidgen.

So are any of the parties gerrymandering here? Well first I think we can rule out the Lib Dems, as only a +1 gain in their vote is pretty insignificant. Labour appeared to have the most to gain, however their weak turnout and their 26 MPs who voted No indicate that the Labour vote was not whipped, so there was no tactics coming from Labour HQ.

However for the Tories I raise an eyebrow. There were indications lowering the voting age would harm them electorally, and they came out strongly against it. Perhaps I am being cynical, but as Mark Reckons pointed out, they have form on manipulating the democratic process to meet their own ends. Is this another case of the Tories choosing selfish expediency over principle?

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