MK’s proposal to lower voting age: Who would benefit?

Former Minister of Religion Ya’akov Margi (Shas) has brought a proposal to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation which would lower the voting age in Israel from 18 to 17.

The Committee, which meets every Sunday, will decide today whether or not to offer the bill full coalition backing.

The proposal has already won support from a number of MKs across the political spectrum, both in the opposition and coalition.

Inside the coalition, along with Margi, both Nurit Koren (Likud) and Meirav Ben-Ari (Kulanu) have signaled their support for the move.

Among opposition parties, Meir Cohen (Yesh Atid), Yossi Yonah (Zionist Union), and Dov Khenin (Joint List) have also pledged to back the bill.

Ostensibly, the move is intended to boost voter turnout. Yet as Israeli political scientist Dr. Ofer Kenig notes, there is no basis for Margi’s claim that lower the voting age would actually raise overall turnout levels.

“Although lowering the voting age would increase the number of potential voters,” Kenig wrote, “the percentage of voters who turn out is actually expected to decrease. Studies show that younger voters are less likely to exercise their right to vote.”

The need for such changes to boost turnout is also unclear. After falling to a record low turnout of 63.5% in 2006, voting levels have risen significantly, reaching 72.3% in last year’s election.

While such a change is unlikely to raise voter turnout levels, there is a good chance it would affect the outcome of elections, tilting the results towards rightwing and religious parties, including Margi’s own Shas party.

According to a study conducted by the TRI polling firm, younger voters were far more likely to align with the Israeli right than older voters. Among the youngest age cohort, 18-24, voters favoring Netanyahu over Isaac Herzog by a whopping 50 points, 64.5% to 14.5%, while voters in general supporter Netanyahu over Herzog by only 12.4 points, 45.1% to 32.7%.

Studies by the Israel Democracy Institute also show that voters in the youngest cohort also tend to be the most likely to express religious views in their political choices. On the question of whether Jewish religious law or democratic egalitarian principles should take precedence, the youngest age group, 18-24, were the most likely to favor religious law over democracy, with 43.8% favoring religious precepts compared to 24.6% favoring democracy, with the remainder responding that it depends on the situation.

Younger voters were also very likely to respond that the government should actively encourage Arabs to leave the country, with 68.7% of 18-24 year-olds favoring such a view, compared to 50% among the 35-44 age group, and 43.5% among those over 65.

Margi's bill is not the first time haredi MKs have tried to lower the voting age. In 2003, Meir Porush (United Torah Judaism) pushed legislation which would have lowered the age to 16. The bill was never brought to a vote.


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