Compulsory Voting: Would it compel the young to vote?

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Compulsory Voting

Young guy with his laptopMost young Americans take a pass at the opportunity to vote. This isn’t a new phenomenon. In elections from 1964 to 2012, young Americans (18 to 24 years of age) have always had the lowest voting rates, according to the U. S. Census.

Would compulsory voting solve the problem?

The 1964 election produced the highest turn out of young voters—about 51%. Since then, it’s all downhill, with an occasional blip. In 2012, only 38% voted. In contrast, the two oldest groups of Americans (45 to 64, and 64+), have always been likely to vote. In 1964, 76% of the oldest group voted, and in 2012, 70% voted.
Would compulsory voting get more young voters to the polls?

Probably not, according to large-scale study of voter turnout in 36 nations that have some form of compulsory voting.

Compulsory voting does increase turnout overall, report political scientists Ellen Quintelier, Marc Hooghe, and Sofie Marlen in the International Political Science Review. But it doesn’t have an equal influence on each age group.

The age group most affected by compulsory voting is the group that already tends to vote—older citizens. Young voters are unaffected by compulsory voting.

Why is this so? The researchers speculate that it has to do with a sense of civic duty, which is stronger in the older groups. Older voters already vote out of civic duty and compulsory voting strengths this moral obligation. Younger citizens tend to not see voting as a civic duty.

Compulsory voting—at least in places outside the United States—paradoxically widens the age divide in voter turnout.

Is a widening age gap in voter turnout a sufficient argument against compulsory voting?
To what extent can we generalize from studies done outside the U.S.?

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