The questionnaire item about political party leanings appeared with identical wording in two previous youth surveys conducted in 1987 and in 1991. The first of these surveys included secondary school students, Years 10 to 12, in the ACT only. The second survey in 1991 included the same grade levels of students, but from the ACT and South Australia. The sample sizes of these previous surveys were 1014 and 1311 respectively.
The comparison of the results from the three surveys is given in Figure 5.
While the two major parties dominated youth party leanings, there are some interesting variations between the three surveys. These can be briefly summarized as follows:
There are a number of additional comments that can be made about the patterns in Figure 5. First, as one might expect, the variation in support for the major parties is probably due to the changing nature of the political climate and political personalities at the time of each survey. It would be necessary to do a closer analysis of these patterns with the general voting patterns during the same period to be able to explain the changes further.
A second pattern which merits closer examination is the sharp drop in specific "No Party" responses, and the sharp increase in "Don't Know" responses. A "No Party" response indicates a deliberate rejection of the parties listed in the question. On the other hand, a "Don't Know" response means simply that the respondent has not made up their mind yet, or that the respondent doesn't feel that he or she knows enough to make a choice.
Some researchers have suggested that at least in countries like the UK, young people have disengaged from political activity because the political parties are seen as no longer relevant, or that there is little difference between them (Campbell 2002; Russell 2005). If a similar phenomenon is the case among Australian youth, then perhaps an increase in "Don't Know" responses reflect a similar disengagement from party identification because of the inability to tell the difference. Once again, a closer examination of these data is necessary to seek an explanation for this pattern.
In conclusion, these data suggest that youth party preferences are worth giving attention to. There is enough variation in the pattern over the three surveys to indicate that, even during late adolescence, most young people are aware of party differences, but an increasingly large proportion remain undecided or are unable to indicate a party choice. Either way, given that these students will be voters in a short period of time, there is sufficient cause for some attention to these figures. One implication might be that young people should receive more party focused civic, political or citizenship education at this stage of their school studies.