5.2 Youth participation in representative democracy
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The voting age limit - Voting at 16 (Wählen mit 16)
The right to vote (active suffrage), has been set at 16 years of age. In 2007, the voting age in Austria has been lowered from 18 to 16 years in order to increase the participation of young people.
This step was taken because the right to vote is the fundamental form of political participation in a democracy. At the age of 16, young people have already reached the age of criminal responsibility and extended legal capacity. They are dealing with their life planning, have to decide on their educational path and their professional future, and some of them are already in professional life. The National Council has therefore decided to grant young people from the age of 16 the right to participate in political decision-making processes and to decide on their living space and their future.
The lowering of the active voting age was decided upon by the Austrian National Council (Nationalrat) as part of the 2007 electoral law reform. While it only directly regulates elections that take place at federal level, the Länder are prohibited from drawing the rules for provincial and municipal council elections more narrowly due to the ‘principle of homogeneity’, which is anchored in the constitution. Therefore, the voting age of 16 applies to Austrian citizens in the following elections and elements of direct democracy:
- Municipal council election (Gemeinderatswahlen)
- Provincial council election (Landtagswahlen)
- National Council election (Nationalratswahlen)
- Federal presidential election (Wahl zum Bundespräsidenten)
- Elections to the European Parliament (Wahlen zum Europäischen Parlament)
- Referendums, petitions for referendums and popular consultations (Volksabstimmungen, Volksbegehren und Volksbefragungen)
In elections to the European Parliament and municipal council elections, all EU citizens aged 16 and over with their main residence in Austria may also vote.
Within the framework of the Austrian National Election Study AUTNES, the project ‘Voting at 16 in the National Council Election 2013’ was also carried out. A current report commissioned by the Parliamentary Directorate on first-time voters in the 2017 National Council election was prepared (Kritzinger, Sylvia, Wagner, Markus und Glavanovits, Josef (2018): Wählen mit 16 – ErstwählerInnen bei der Nationalratswahl 2017. Wien). It inter alia showes that first-time voters were more interested in politics the more interested their parents were in the election campaign, the more political discussions and projects were carried out in school, and if they had previously watched election debates and visited the parliament building. Political knowledge, along with political interest, is one of the driving forces of voter turnout. The study comes to the conclusion that the lowering of the voting age had positive effects: first-time voters aged 16-17 were well prepared to participate in elections and the high turnout in this age group may lead to long-term positive effects on voter turnout.
A distinction is made between active and passive suffrage. While Austrians can vote in elections from 16 years of age, they can only stand as candidates from age 18 onwards. As an exception, the candidacy for the office of Federal President requires a minimum age of 35 years. As part of the 2007 electoral law reform, the age limit for the right to stand for election was reduced from 19 to 18 years as well.
Young voter turnout
There is no official data collection on the turnoutof young people in elections. Some recent statistics/evaluations have been provided by research institutes.
National Council election 2017
The report commissioned by the Parliamentary Directorate on first-time voters (Kritzinger, Sylvia, Wagner, Markus und Glavanovits, Josef (2018): Wählen mit 16 – ErstwählerInnen bei der Nationalratswahl 2017. Wien) showed the reported voter turnout for
- 16-17 year olds: 90.3%
- 18-19 year olds: 74.6%,
- 20-29 year olds: 81.8%
- General: reported 92.4%, actual 80%
Since the reported voter turnout of all age groups was 92.4%, which is higher than the actual voter turnout of 80%, it can be assumed that there was overreporting (due to social desirability and an overrepresentation of politically interested people).
However, the study finds deviating turnout rates for first time voters. On average, 18-19 year-olds had the lowest voter turnout of all age groups. The clear differences between 16-17-year-olds and 18- to under-20-year-olds are also statistically significant, with younger first-time voters much more motivated to vote than older first-time voters and 20-under-30-year-olds. This may also be due to the possibility of better preparation for the election through school and parental home. The problematic group regarding turnout is showed to be not the 16-17 year olds (as feared by critics of the lower voting age) but the 18-19 year olds.
According to the Austrian Society for European Politics (Österreichische Gesellschaft für Europapolitik) the AUTNES pre-election survey, a total of 86.9% of 16- to 17-year-olds had previously said they wanted to vote in the election.
According to a study on the Nationalrat Election 2013 presented in the parliament (Studie zur Nationalratswahl 2013 im Parlament), the turnout of first-time voters in 2013, unlike in 2008, was well below general turnout. 16- and 17-year-olds (63%) have more often stated that they have taken part in the election than 18- to 20-year-olds (59%).
- 16 and 17 years: 63%
- 18 – 20 years: 59%
- General: 75%
European Parliament Elections 2019 (Eurobarometer)
The European elections 2019 brought a record high turnout due to an increase in turnout among young people. In Austria, the increase in the two young voter categories was 19% for people aged under 25 and 16% for people aged 25 to 39. The total turnout in the two categories was 48% (under 25) and 56% (25 to 39) according to a Eurobarometer survey.
Young people as political representatives
As mentioned above, due to the distinction between active and passive suffrage the right to the right to stand for election is only reached at 18 (age limit lowered from 19 in 2007). Candidates for the office of Federal President must have reached the minimum age of 35 years.
There is no law stipulating age limits to become a member of a political party. Most parties active in Austrian politics have youth organisations, as well as associated lists in elections to the pupil and student councils (Schülervertretung und Studierendenvertretung) – both statutory representatives of their constituencies.
Age distribution national assembly (reporting date 10.01.2020)
The Website of the parliament provides information on the age and gender distribution in the national assembly.
|20 - 29 years||7||6||13|
|30 - 39 years||16||16||32|
|40 - 49 years||21||30||51|
|50 - 59 years||23||41||64|
|61 - 70 years||5||18||23|
|71 - 80 years||0||0||0|