Published on 31 March 2023
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Do children want the vote? Lessons from a primary school

Why aren’t children allowed to vote? Hosting a series of workshops with primary-school-aged children in different year groups, researchers at the University of Cambridge sought to explore the question of children’s enfranchisement as it is experienced by children themselves. Do they care about it? Do they understand the pros and cons in the same way as adults? Do they think it would make any difference? If so, how?

This project was conceived as an opportunity to find out what happens when you think about children as individuals entitled to democratic consideration. When you treat them as full citizens and not simply (or exclusively) as children.

As such, we sidestepped the question of children’s capacity for democratic participation – an inquiry that mistakenly associates voting rights with competence. Nor did we try to resolve the broader puzzle of whether children should be allowed to vote. A question that rests on whether children are deemed to be rights-holders and citizens – part or members of “the people” – invested with the same rights, dignity, and respect as their adult peers. 

Instead, we tried to understand if, or to what degree, children are political? If they’re interested in democracy and political issues, and if they have distinct perspectives and priorities. The project was not designed as a starter pistol for a campaign for children’s suffrage. Although we set about our inquiries knowing they had the potential to breathe new life into the question of children’s enfranchisement.


Authors

Harry Pearse

Research Associate

Harry is a Research Associate at the Centre for the Future of Democracy, working on the strengths, uses and permutations of contemporary deliberative democracy. His research develops a critique of...

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