Austrians Split on Voting at Age 16 Plan

By VERONIKA OLEKSYN
The Associated Press
Friday, January 12, 2007; 10:58 PM

VIENNA, Austria -- Austria's new coalition government says 16-year-olds _ who can already vote in some local races _ should also be allowed to cast ballots in national elections.

But the country is split on lowering the voting age from 18. Some think 16-year-olds are not sufficiently interested or mature enough to have a say in national affairs but others welcome the change.

"Adolescents aren't any less interested in politics than other groups," said Reinhard Zuba of the Austrian Institute for Youth Research, citing recent studies on the topic.

One such study, carried out with the Vienna-based SORA Institute after local elections in Vienna in October 2005, showed 59 percent of 16- to 18-year-olds cast a ballot.

That turnout was about the same as other age groups, said SORA co-director Christoph Hofinger, adding that lowering the voting age to 16 _ or even 14 _ could help counterbalance the views of an increasingly aging population, a common phenomenon across Europe.

In Europe, and around the world, the voting age is commonly 18 _ with some exceptions. In Iran, 15-year-olds can vote and in Cuba, Nicaragua and the Isle of Man, off the coast of Britain, 16-year-olds can cast ballots. On the other end of the spectrum, the age in Italy for voting for the Senate is 25.

The proposal to lower the age comes from Austria's "grand coalition" of Social Democrats and the conservative People's Party following elections on Oct. 1. But it was not a major campaign issue.

"I'd vote if I could because I get a bit worked up about what politicians do without asking us," said 15-year-old Katharina Wurian.

Maria Finz-Lucchi, a history teacher in Vienna, said she too supports the proposal.

"It would teach young people to take responsibility," she said.

But Willi Geser, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Innsbruck, is skeptical.

"If one decreases the voting age, then one has to do more to promote political education in the schools," he said.


© 2007 The Associated Press