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

Updated: 17 July 2012

7. Does the subject make a difference?

We have established that aspects of the study about the Australian government do make a difference in the disposition of students regarding future voting intentions. What we want to address now is whether it makes a difference in what subject the student studies about the Australian government. In Table 2 we saw that there were ten general categories of subjects which the students themselves listed in which they said they studied about the government, varying widely from SOSE or the Study of Society, to Science, Religion, or Vocational Studies. We now ask the question whether the specific subject makes a difference. In Table 3 we use the same list of school subjects and show whether the students would vote in a federal election when 18, even if they did not have to, whether they were interested in the subjects which taught about the government, and the per cent who correctly named both Houses of Parliament. The school subjects are ranked according to the percentage of students who indicated that they would vote in the next Federal election when 18, even if voting were non-compulsory.

Table 3: Subject Areas in which students said they studied about the Australian Government, ranked by whether they "Would Vote", and showing if they "Found Study Interesting" and if they correctly named both Houses of Parliament (N=3883)
Subject Would Vote
% (Total N)
Found Study Interesting
% (Total N)
Named Both Houses of Parl
% (Total N)
Civics, Politics and International Relations 77.8 (153) 38.0 (160) 50.3 (161)
Geography 68.8 (109) 23.0 (113) 47.8 (113)
Australian Studies 68.7 (275) 24.7 (288) 42.6 (291)
Business, Economics and Commerce 64.5 (431) 27.1 (442) 50.1 (445)
Legal Studies 64.1 (460) 34.3 (481) 48.0 (485)
History 63.5 (875) 19.7 (899) 45.5 (913)
SOSE and Social Studies 57.4 (1032) 15.8 (1075) 29.8 (1089)
Humanities 54.4 (195) 21.6 (199) 32.9 (207)
No Response or Uncodable 52.9 (87) 25.0 (72) 27.8 (90)
Other (VET, Work Studies, Religion, etc.)* 45.9 (85) 22.1 (86) 27.0 (89)

* There were 1040 students who did not answer this question.

The figures in Table 3 make it clear that the school subject in which the student recalls having studied about the government does make a significant difference in voting commitment, in the level that the student found the study of government interesting, and in the extent to which the student could correctly name the Houses of Parliament.

Although only 4 per cent of the students said they studied about government in a civics or politics subject (see Table 2), the proportion of this group who say they would vote (77.8 per cent) is the highest of all the school subjects mentioned. As can be seen, the per cent declines to a low of 45.9 per cent for the "Other" category of subjects. The difference between the highest and lowest is over 30 per cent.

The other figure of interest is that concerning SOSE (Study of Society and Environment) and other social studies subjects. Although this category is the most frequently mentioned by students as the subject in which they studied about the government, it is one of the lowest in which students said they would vote, were interested in the study of government, and in the ability to correctly name both Houses of Parliament.

We need to keep in mind that some students took some of these subjects because they were compulsory, and others did so because they chose too. Because SOSE is more likely a compulsory subject, and civics, politics and international relations more likely to be elective subjects, it may be that the conditions under which the subjects were taken might be a factor regarding the impact on. Nevertheless, these differences do provide important information regarding the study of government in the curriculum.