Youth Electoral Study (YES) - Report 2: Youth, Political Engagement and Voting

Updated: 20 January 2011

6. Implications of Our Findings for Policies to Increase Commitment to Voting, and Political Engagement Generally

We believe that our findings in this 2nd Report have important implications for enhancing the level of political awareness and political engagement among students in schools. Our findings can be grouped into two main categories, namely 1) student political activity and voting intentions as adults, and 2) student elections, student government and voting intentions as adults.

Student political activity and voting intentions

We have examined a wide variety of forms of civic and politically-related behaviours, ranging from signing petitions to participation in demonstrations. Our analysis of the data on student political activity has found that, with few understandable exceptions such as violent and destructive protest, politically-related activities are positively related to the intention to vote as adults, even if voting were not compulsory.

What is more compelling is that all of the appropriate behaviours we have considered, in one way or another, can be encouraged and even built into school curricula or youth programs.

Student elections and student government

Our data show that student elections for student governments in schools are a valuable training ground for adult political participation in a democracy. However participation in school elections was for some students an event of little meaning. To these students, school elections and the existence of a student government were not taken seriously because of the ways they were conducted. Certainly schools should utilize these opportunities to make the election and student government experiences of students a genuine, meaningful, valuable, and a realistic pre-cursor to the responsibilities of citizenship in a democracy as adults.

To create "schools of democracy" does not mean the schools themselves have to be totally democratic. Tse, for example, contends that by nature schools are not democratic, and to attempt to make them so is a "mission impossible" (Tse, 2000). However to provide students with the opportunity to experience democratic processes, in particular through genuine democratic student elections and an effective student government, appears to be a valuable component in making the entire school experience a part of civics and citizenship education. The mechanisms to assist proper school elections already exists through the efforts of the Australian Electoral Commission, and other bodies such as Elections ACT, through whom school elections can be facilitated by request. Examples of school election guidelines can be found at www.aec.gov.au and at www.elections.act.gov.au. Our data suggest that more advantage should be made of these election opportunities in schools.