Constitutional Controversy: Should the Voting Age Be Lowered?
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Voting age in the United States has long been a controversial topic. Section one of the twenty-sixth amendment of the U.S. Constitution states: “The right of citizens of the United States, who are 18 years of age or older, to vote, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of age.” This amendment was ratified in 1971, and lowered the voting age from twenty-one to eighteen. Recent national tragedies, such as the Parkland Massacre, have reignited the young adult population’s interest in lowering the voting age to sixteen or seventeen. An article published in the New York Times “Should Voting Age Be Lowered?”, by Laurence Steinberg and David Davenport debates both sides of the argument. The reasoning supporting this notion makes a compelling case. However, the science and logic opposing the notion results in well- researched, concrete evidence…that is not simply a matter of opinion. A rhetorical analysis of this article will explain both viewpoints, yet nevertheless, ultimately support the standpoint of why the United States voting age should not be lowered.
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A decrease in voting age would raise many negative consequences. David Davenport, a researcher with the Hoover Institution at Stanford University agrees that the voting age should not be lowered. Davenport’s main argument is that “demonstrating is not the same as voting”, meaning voting requires a high level of critical thinking and understanding of the government and its functions. According to him, voting is our most important civic duty and privilege, which should not be taken lightly. Davenport claims that test results prove a majority of students in this age group (sixteen and seventeen), lack essential knowledge regarding voting and government positions, functions, and officials. The most recent event of voting age lowering was in 1971, during the Vietnam War. The basis for decreasing the age from twenty-one to eighteen was the catchphrase “Old enough to fight, old enough to vote”. In other words, if a U.S. citizen was of age to fight and die for their country, they should be permitted to elect the leaders who would guide them. In the article, Davenport follows this claim by stating “It’s hard to find such a powerful reason to lower the voting age today.” Science supports the last reason for this standpoint. The United States national drinking age is twenty-one. In limited states, the required age to legally operate a vehicle is increasing from sixteen to seventeen and eighteen. Eighteen is also the minimum age to serve on a jury as well as enlist in the military (without parental consent). It is simply inconsistent with our country’s beliefs, cultural values, and scientific findings to lower the voting age.
David Davenport is a researcher at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. Their website describes their organization as “a public policy think tank promoting the principles of individual, economic, and political freedom”. It is unsurprising that Davenport would involve himself in a political debate, after understanding his career― which does just that. Davenport’s audience is not young adults, rather, he seems to be addressing people of voting age. He is pleading for his audience to concur that raising the voting age would be damaging. It is apparent that the main event that is credited with reinitiating interest in this controversy was the 2018 Stoneman Douglas Highschool mass shooting. High School aged people were outraged with our country’s absence of gun control, and blamed this tragedy on uncomplicated access to weaponry. Following this, young social activist groups began to propose the idea of lowering the voting age to repeal firearm rights. Davenport’s argument displays a fault through his lack of sources. Although he references “test results”, this is never further specified or credited. The inclusion of this seems completely arbitrary, and presents the reader with a sense of unpreparedness. Properly citing sources would greatly improve the ethos within the debate. Davenport’s strong suit regarding rhetorical strategy is his use of logos. The tone of his language is serious, whilst also staging a clear argument, with sensible reasons and a severe appeal to logic. Use of pathos is completely absent in Davenport’s explanation. His ethos is improved by the inclusion of his title as a researcher affiliated with Stanford, one of the most prestigious universities in the nation. The overall strength of Davenport’s argument is exceptional. It is appropriately persuasive, while staying reasonable and level-headed. His position on the posed question is clear. The most significant weakness is the lack of properly cited, scholarly references.
The opposing side of the argument is explained by Laurence Steinberg, a Professor of Psychology at Temple University. Steinberg claims that young people are just as capable in this situation as adults. He says “Teens may sometimes make bad deliberative choices, but they don’t make them any more often than adults do.” As mentioned before, it is common knowledge that the frontal lobes in the human brain are not mature until age twenty-one, even continuing development until age twenty-five, in some cases. Healthline.com explains the frontal lobes are essentially the “control panel” of our personality and ability to communicate. Emotional expression, problem solving, memory, language, judgment, and sexual behaviors are all managed through this part of the brain. Meaning, anatomical development is too immature for the process of voting. Steinberg claims that the few countries possessing a voting age of sixteen and seventeen have a higher voting turnout for those ages, in comparison to the eighteen to twenty year old demographic. Due to the failure to properly credit these statistics, the argument sounded more like an opinion, rather than concrete facts. The countries named included Argentina, Austria, Brazil, and Nicaragua. These places are drastically different from America in terms of lifestyle, culture, and government. Therefore, these countries can not accurately reflect America’s outcome in this scenario. Every defense given in this viewpoint seems to be weak, due to sole reliance on the pathos of the argument.
Laurence Steinberg is a Professor of Psychology at Temple University. He is likely integrated and involved with young adults on a daily basis. It is clear through his argument that Steingberg values this age group’s beliefs, aspirations, and concerns. Steinberg does well at choosing the correct audience to supplicate his viewpoint. He is addressing those opposed to lowering the voting age, and also includes a call to action. As mentioned before, this controversy was brought back in response to America’s plight with mass shootings. These events only enhance Steinberg’s argument, because he is arguing in favor of the aforementioned young adult demographic. Much like Davenport, he also fails to provide any sources within his writing. If he had done so, the impression of his credibility for the audience would skyrocket. Pathos is the most heavily utilized rhetorical strategy on his side of the argument. Davenport is targeting the audience’s emotions of sympathy and unity, to influence them. Logos was used when stating statistics, however, this was weakened because no references are cited. His title as a Professor of Psychology boosts Davenport’s ethos, but it remains inadequate. The general strength of argument was substandard. The argument relies completely on emotion, is based off of opinion, and lacks any substantial evidence. Persuasion of the argument is unconvincing and almost seems lazy.
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Even before the signing of The Constitution over two-hundred years ago, the U.S. voting age has sparked a great amount of controversy. In 1971, the twenty-sixth amendment of The Constitution was ratified, which lowered the voting age from twenty-one to eighteen years old. The phrase “old enough to fight, old enough to vote” was the main influence in this legislature. In lieu of recent national tragedies, such as the Parkland Massacre and Las Vegas shooting, young adults began a call to action to lower the United States voting age to sixteen or seventeen. The New York Times published an article debating both sides of the argument. Professor of Psychology at Temple University, Laurence Steinberg, argued in favor of lowering the voting age. His argument was not up to par, and lacked the necessary levels of persuasion. David Davenport, a researcher at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, opposed this question. His argument was successfully persuasive due to his abundant use of logos. There is no doubt that the question “Should the Voting Age Be Lowered?” is relevant today. Nonetheless, after careful analysis, the opposing viewpoint in this article was well formulated, rational, scholarly, and ultimately successful.
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