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Political Confessional: The Woman Who Thinks Older People Shouldn’t Be Allowed To Vote

Welcome to Political Confessional, a column about the views that Americans are scared to share with their friends and neighbors. In an increasingly polarized political climate, adherence to party or ideological orthodoxy seems de rigueur. Social media serves only to amplify that perception at times.

But Americans’ political views are often idiosyncratic and sometimes offensive, and they rarely adhere neatly to any particular party line. In this column, we want to dig into Americans’ messy opinions on politics, morality and social mores. We hope that this exercise gives readers a glimpse into the minds of those with whom they might disagree — or agree! If you have a political belief that you’re willing to share with us, fill out this form — we might get in touch.

This week we talked with Mikayla, a 28 year old white woman from New Hampshire. She wrote, “There should be an upper age-limit on voting (i.e. people over the age of X shouldn’t vote).”

Clare Malone: So how did you come to this opinion?

Mikayla: If you look broadly at the spectrum of issues that are pretty important — LGBTQ rights, climate change — generally you see more conservative views and more resistance to changes in those areas among older voters. And I think that’s because their values evolved years in the past when society was quite different. And so having this block of people whose views are lagging society more broadly, can, if not be regressive, be somewhat resistant to progress in areas that are important for broader acceptance of more people.

CM: Would this just be persecution of conservatives?

Mikayla: I could see how it comes across that way, because it’s certainly true as people get older they tend to get more conservative or perhaps they stay the same and society moves on. I guess it’s just that if you look among Republicans who are younger, you see increased support for climate change or LGBTQ rights. There’s just generally increased acceptance of these socially liberal positions among younger Republicans. There’s still disagreement among young Democrats and young Republicans on some of those issues and the best way to tackle them. So it’s not stifling conservative speech, it’s just allowing the debate to move on.

CM: What I’m hearing from you is that you see age and morality linked around certain issues?

Mikayla: People who are older have had a whole lifetime of influencing the political discourse already. It’s not just about their response to certain issues, it’s that more broadly they’ve been engaged in the public sphere for decades. Nothing is more frustrating to me than when you hear older voters complain about, ‘Oh, the system is so broken, the politicians are so corrupt.’ It’s like, you have been voting for decades, these corrupt politicians you’re complaining about, you literally voted into office. Another benefit of this potential position is that these people have already influenced the discourse, so it’s not as if they’re being totally silenced. They’ve had their turn, I guess.

CM: What’s the age at which people shouldn’t be able to vote?

Mikayla: I think i’m pretty deliberately going dodge that question. There’s a confluence of factors at play there. I don’t know. This is a broad idea more than a concrete policy that I’d push to implement.

CM: Are you talking about people in their 50s and 60s or are you talking about people in their 70s and 80s?

Mikalya: I think that if it were implemented practically, it would be on the later end of that spectrum. It wouldn’t be 50s/60s, it would be 70 maybe, if you want me to pick out a number.

CM: Part of politics and social change is about persuasion. American culture has changed pretty radically in my lifetime on some of the social issues you’re talking about. Is some of this just dodging the hard work of persuading older voters to your point of view?

Mikayla: That’s certainly a valid argument. I’ve also witnessed that change on those issues. But there are other factors that are at play as well.

Another example is technology, privacy. Those are all things that are exceedingly important. The thermostat in my house is connected to the internet. Meanwhile my grandma can’t work her flip phone. As technology is advancing at a rapid rate, it’s important to have people who understand those issues. How is the older generation supposed to hold politicians to account about the complex technology issues that require some level of regulation when they don’t really understand technology that you and I have lived with our entire lives?

CM:Does that all just come back to, well, our society is ageist and exclusionary when it comes to educating people about technology?

Mikayla: My response to that would be that it seems that some people are reluctant to do the legwork to learn about new technology. I have a grandmother that doesn’t use email. And when presented with, ‘Oh, this would be a good way for the family to keep in touch,’ she shuts down and says “I don’t want to.” It’s certainly fair that society isn’t doing the legwork, but for some people, there is some internal recalcitrance as well.

CM: When she shuts down and says “I don’t want to,” what do you think is behind that shutting down? Is it fear of the new? Fear of doing it wrong?

Mikayla: I think those things are certainly possible I have not personally made any lobbying efforts. I could definitely see how all of those things are scary for anyone. I will step back and say I acknowledge that this is unpopular and ageist and potentially anti-conservative, I acknowledge all those short-comings with this position.

CM: How do you feel about the top three Democratic presidential candidates being in their 70s?

Mikayla: I’m really not thrilled about that. Of the three, Warren is the only one that I like and even so, I would vastly prefer someone younger. I think it’s unfortunate that none of the younger candidates have stepped up on the left flank.

CM: On the presidential level are you disappointed by the fact that they’re all older because of the things that we talked about earlier — that they might not intrinsically understand some of those issues that have to do with technology? Or does it go to a place of, ‘well, older peoples’ mental faculties could diminish sooner’?

Mikayla: For me it’s a lot more understanding, being in touch with the issues that younger voters face. I have my blinders and I certainly can’t understand issues that a lot of other people face and I think the same is true of people of a certain age. They only have their experiences growing up and the way that they’ve lived and I wish that we had more younger options just to better understand some of the big issues that are important.

CM: Do you think that you will one day become out of touch with these issues?

Mikayla: Oh, almost certainly.

CM: And you’re ok with being disenfranchised because of that?

Mikayla: Yes. As a broad brush, obviously hard to think about how it would affect me but yes, based on the arguments that I’m playing out it does make sense to me that at a certain age your values are going to be lagging cultural advancement.

CM: Do you think we should have age limits on who can hold elected office, including the presidency?

Mikayla: I think that’s actually even more compelling than limiting voting based on age. I think for the presidency, that’s a lot more compelling because then you should start considering mental faculties, physical fitness because of how demanding that job is.

CM: Have you told anyone about this opinion?

Mikayla: I’ve floated it with younger friends my age and it doesn’t tend to get a lot of traction. I don’t think I’ve gotten any acute pushback on it but no one seems to be that behind the idea either.

Clare Malone is a senior political writer for FiveThirtyEight.

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