Youth Electoral Study (YES) - Report 5: Youth, schools and learning about politics

Updated: 17 July 2012

1. The YES Project

Youth participation in the electoral process is of great concern in most democracies today. For many years we have known that young people are less likely to enroll to vote than older groups. The Youth Electoral Study (YES) is a national study investigating the reasons why this is so and also looks at what motivates Australia's young people to participate in voting and democracy.

This four year national project is a major investigation into youth voting behaviour led by a team of researchers from the University of Sydney and the Australian National University working in conjunction with the Australian Electoral Commission. The research is funded by the Australian Research Council, through its ARC Linkage Grants program, with a major contribution from the Australian Electoral Commission as industry partner. The Chief Investigators are A/Professor Murray Print (University of Sydney) and Professor Lawrence J. Saha (Australian National University).

1.1 Project Objectives

The principal purpose of the project is to determine why many young people do not register on the Australian electoral roll, despite compulsory voting, and hence do not participate in Australian democracy. It has been estimated that there might be as many as 400 000 young Australians, 18–25 years of age who do not vote in elections because they have not registered on the electoral roll (see Table 1). Apart from the fact that voting is compulsory, the under-registration of eligible young people raises questions about their political interest and commitment.

A more fundamental purpose of YES is to investigate the impact of disengaged youth on Australian democracy. Large numbers of non-participating youth have implications for the effectiveness and representativeness of our political system. Should this trend continue, the future viability of the Australian democratic political system may become problematic.

Thus the project is investigating the underlying characteristics of those who do and do not register when they become eligible at age 17, and is focusing on the links between pro-voting behaviour and family, school and other social and psychological variables. The meaning of voting and other forms of active citizenship by Australian youth is being examined. Various current intervention strategies to improve registration are analysed for their impact and new strategies examined.

Table 1: Participation rates of young Australians
Age Revised ABS est of eligible pop Actual federal enrolment Participation rate as % ABS Est.
18 year olds 261 927 152 687 58.29
19 year olds 261 373 194 559 74.44
20 year olds 256 903 209 751 81.65
21 year olds 256 157 220 421 86.05
22 year olds 249 831 213 768 85.57
23 year olds 243 892 212 112 86.97
24 year olds 236 210 209 773 88.81
25 year olds 232 427 207 042 89.08
Overall 18–25 year old cohort 1 998 720 1 620 113 81.06
Source: Hallett (2007)