We now turn our attention to what some consider the most important aspect of the question relating to student party leaning, namely, are students who favour a particular party more likely to vote than those who either have no party leanings, or simply do not know which party they favour? Research in other countries, for example, has demonstrated that party identity is related to the tendency to vote in elections, and that this is true for young voters as well as older voters. (See Howe (2006) for evidence from Canada and the Netherlands.)
The data in Figure 6 show the student responses to the two key voting questions that we asked in our questionnaire: "Do you intend to vote in Federal elections after you reach 18?", and "Would you vote in Federal elections if you did not have to?"
There were different response categories for each of these questions. For the first, students had a choice of four responses, ranging from "Yes, definitely", to "Definitely not". For the second question, students were simply asked to respond "Yes" or "No". In order to present these data in a simple form, and to compare the responses, the categories for the first question were collapsed into two: "Yes definitely" and "Yes probably" were recoded as "Yes" while "Probably not" and "Definitely not" were recoded as "No".
The percentage of the students responding "Yes" or "No" to the two voting questions are given in Figure 6 for each Party or non-Party category. What are the important patterns?
First, it is clear that under compulsory voting, most Australian adolescents say they will vote, although this varies from 96.5% for those who identify with the Liberal/National Party, to a low of 76.7% for those who identify with the Democrats. This gap between the highest and lowest percentage of those who say they would vote (the top bar for each party leaning) is 19.8%. Given that the top bar represents the student response to the question on compulsory voting, the differences are noteworthy. The figures show that the most compliant group of students, who say they will vote, is the group who say they lean toward the Liberal/National Party (96.5%). At the bottom, those who are least compliant, even when voting is compulsory, are those who say "No Party" (77.9%) and those who identify with the Democrats (76.7%). The difference of almost 20% between the upper and lower figures suggests that there might be either a disengagement from the electoral process, or perhaps a higher level of rejection of the process by these students.
However, when we turn to the hypothetical situation of non-compulsory voting (a measure of voting commitment), we find the differences much more pronounced. Overall, the difference in voting intention between the highest figure (72.3% for the Liberal/National parties) and the lowest figure (34.8% for those who said "No Party") is almost double at 37.5%.
In terms of party differences, it is clear that the Liberal/National parties enjoy the highest level of voting commitment by the youth who identify with them, followed by the Labor Party and the Green Party. It is not clear why the students who identify with the Democrats are the least likely of the party identifiers to say they will vote, irrespective of whether it is compulsory or non-compulsory. What is most striking, however, is how voting commitment declines for young people who have either rejected a party identity, or do not, for whatever reason, identify with any party. Only one-third of these students would vote if they did not have to.
Clearly, being able to identify with a party does enhance a young person's propensity to vote.
We did not discuss political parties, or how political party identity was related to voting, in our group interviews. However on one occasion a group of students did talk about parties and voting. This brief discussion is described in Exhibit 3.
At Scholl High School we encountered another participant, Jake, who was a member of a political party, this time the Young Liberals.
Interestingly, the bias at this school was decidedly towards the left and participants considered themselves "working class". They [some students] considered that some parties were "for the working class" and that it was important to vote for these parties.
Jake did not offer any opposition to this general view.
* The names of the school and students are pseudonyms