I know it sounds crazy.

Pity the Children: Let Them Vote

Mark Gilbert is a Bloomberg View columnist and writes editorials on economics, finance and politics. He was London bureau chief for Bloomberg News and is the author of “Complicit: How Greed and Collusion Made the Credit Crisis Unstoppable.”
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Winston Churchill supposedly said anyone without left-leaning political tendencies in their youth has no heart, while anyone who doesn't abandon that stance in middle age has no head. Ed Miliband, leader of Britain's opposition Labour Party, is hoping Churchill was correct.

In the wake of the experiment in letting 16 and 17 year olds vote in last week's Scottish independence referendum, Miliband today proposed extending suffrage to those teenagers in national elections. It's a smart move by Labour in a country with an aging population; it may even kick-start a global trend toward enfranchising youth.

The British electorate currently numbers about 46.1 million; Miliband's plan would add about 1.5 million teens, based on Office for National Statistics figures for mid-2013. A Survation poll of 16-24 year olds for Sky News found that 50 percent of them would back Labour in an election, compared with just 18 percent favoring the Tories.

Some 17.5 percent of the British population is over 65, up from 15.8 percent a decade ago, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. The percentage of those under age 15, meantime, has dropped to 17.3 percent from 18.2 percent in 2004. Given the Conservative voting proclivities of British pensioners and their tendency to hang around for longer than ever, Labour needs to extend the lower age limit of the electorate to offset the effect of those shifting demographics.

Beyond the narrow arena of British politics, there may be benefits for the wider world from giving youth a role in elections. Politicians almost everywhere bemoan shrinking voter participation in elections; the Scottish referendum produced a record 85 percent turnout. Engaging youngsters early seems like an obvious and desirable way to boost interest, knowledge and participation in the political process -- even if the motivation is old-fashioned grubbing for votes.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Mark Gilbert at magilbert@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
James Greiff at jgreiff@bloomberg.net