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German politicians call for lowering voting age to 16

July 30, 2020

Three of Germany’s main political parties have called for the federal voting age to be lowered from 18 to 16. According to a recent study out of Berlin, there are few arguments against the idea.

Deutschland | Debatte über Herabsetzung des Wahlalters
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/B. Pedersen

Fifty years after Germany lowered the voting age for federal elections from 21 to 18 years old, some politicians are calling for the age to be dropped once again. 

"I am convinced that young people at 16 are very capable of making a responsible choice," German Family Minister Franziska Giffey told news agency dpa in Berlin on Thursday. "We should give them this opportunity." 

Left flank broadly in favor

The idea has found support with the leadership of Giffey's own Social Democrats (SPD) as well as the leaders of Germany's Green Party and the left-wing die Linke Party. 

SPD Chairwoman Saskia Esken said that her party wants the voting age lowered to 16 for all local, state, federal, and European elections in Germany. 

"We must give young people the opportunity to participate and help shape the future," Sasken said. 

A young couple in an undated photo probably hailing from the late 1960s or 1970 look at a poster calling for the voting age in Germany to be reduced to 18.
Just 50 years ago, young Germans were campaigning to reduce the voting age to 18Image: picture-alliance/dpa

"We live in a time where the maturity of the young generation begins much earlier. It would be nice if the legislature could see that and follow suit," Green Party leader Robert Habeck said.  

"Sixteen-year-olds are no less interested and informed than 18-year-olds, said die Linke party leader Katja Kipping. "It is high time to let young people aged 16 and over have a say."

Read more:  How young voters matter in European Parliament elections

Right flank broadly reticent

But Germany's center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) / Christian Social Union (CSU) alliance opposes the move. 

"It has proven to be a good idea linking voting rights and the age of majority," CSU Secretary-General Markus Blume told dpa.  

In Germany, full criminal responsibility, possession of a driver's license and other rights and obligations are linked to the age of majority, which is 18. 

"This is also the correct standard for the right to vote, the supreme right in a democracy," Blume said. 

"Young people are more committed today than they have been in a long time," he said. "The climate movement has shown that political participation is possible in many different ways without having to change the electoral law."

The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) Party is also against lowering the voting age, while positions within the liberal pro-business Free Democratic Party were mixed, according to news agency AFP.

Q&A with first-time voters in Germany

Some states have already started

A recent study of the subject from researchers at the Freie Universität (FU) Berlin largely supported lowering the voting age.

FU researchers compared the 2019 state elections in Brandenburg — where 16- and 17-year-olds were already allowed to vote, to those in Saxony, where they were not. They asked young people there about their political interest and knowledge. 

"We can already see that 15-year-olds have a fairly pronounced interest in and knowledge of politics, and that this is independent of the valid electoral law in both of the federal states studied," explained researcher Thorsten Faas. 

However, the study also found that the prevalence of these factors were largely linked to "privileged domestic or educational situations."

The voting age in Germany was lowered from 21 to 18 years on July 31, 1970 amid a global student protest movement. 

kp/msh (AFP, dpa)