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Who Are Ready to Vote at 16? New Perspectives in the Study of Political Reasoning

Bernard Fournier
Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Bernard Fournier
Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Open Panel

Abstract

The question of lowering the voting age to 16 has long been debated in university circles. In the last Austrian elections, young people aged 16 and older were invited to vote, even if young people themselves are divided over this issue, even hostile to the idea. Nevertheless, isn’t such a question, which is rarely discussed by the larger public and touches on several dimensions of a person’s life, an ideal topic for a debate, where the confrontation of ideas may change opinions and reveal – or even modify – young people’s global attitudes towards political interest and participation? A non-random sample of nearly two hundred 16- to 22-year-old youth in French-speaking Belgium was selected to discuss the possibility of lowering the voting age to 16, as well as political interest and political participation, during one day with four experts. The same questionnaire was filled in in the beginning and at the end of the day to measure the changes in opinion. But those changes are not the most interesting ones in this research. When we analysed the discussions of the young people during the focus groups, it was possible to bring out real patterns of political reasoning in the discourses. The results presented here open interesting research paths, particularly for the study of political socialization.