The youth on the competence of the youth in elections
The study argues that 16 and 17 year old adolescents have minimal skills and knowledge required for a competent electoral choice. This study is based on a 10-week e-course “Basics of an Active Citizen”, which was conducted from 9 January until 20 March 2017. It involved 29 students from 24 secondary schools in Estonia taking tests on required course materials and answering two reflective questions weekly. The reflection questions were designed so that it was possible to offer different answers in a personal way without contradicting the information in weekly study materials.
Students gave reflective answers to 20 questions during the e-course. The present paper analyses the answers given to three questions related to electoral choice and the participation of youth (particularly 16 and 17 year olds who can participate in local elections for the first time in Estonia in October 2017).
When asked “Do the people who do not participate in elections lose their right to voice their opinion between the elections?”, most of the students supported the idea that was the most strongly promoted in the study materials, namely that participation in elections and the right to free speech do not depend on each other neither essentially nor legally. However, students from upper grades (particularly the 12th grade) had differing opinions, arguing in favour of ideas that could not be considered the most popular or the most predictable. The ones who answered the questions positively argued that these two types of political participation depend on each other, which is why a wilful refusal of one of them also excludes a person from practicing the other. Those who adopted a compromise position most often argued that the people who do not participate in elections should not voice their disappointment in the results of the election.
The second question was: “What is the most important information to consider when making a competent electoral choice?” The majority of students argued that the most important thing is to be aware of your own world-view. However, they often added that one should know his or her world-view and often people (including the youth) are not particularly well aware of their ideological stance on certain political issues. Other things were mentioned less often: knowledge about the past performance of political parties, electoral promises (slogans, programs) of political parties, and being familiar with particular individual candidates.
Finally, when students gave reflective answers to the question “Is it justified to give the right to participate in local elections to 16 and 17 year olds?”, slightly more than half of the students argued that the young people of this age have sufficient skills and knowledge for electoral participation, while about one in five argued that the age of participation has become too low. About one in five argued that this is not an ‘either-or’ issue, and that there are arguments both in support and against it.