Youth Electoral Study (YES) - Report 1: Enrolment and Voting

Updated: 20 January 2011


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

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 (ARC), through its ARC Linkage Grants program, with a major contribution from the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) as industry partner. The project is being administered through the University of Sydney.

The Chief Investigators for the project are A/Professor Murray Print (Centre for Research & Teaching in Civics, University of Sydney) and Dr. Larry Saha (Reader in Sociology, ANU), together with Dr Kathy Edwards as Senior Research Associate. The Partner Investigator is Brien Hallett (Assistant Commissioner, Public Awareness, Media and Research, AEC). The Project Officer from the AEC, until recently, has been Ms. Yvonne Harrison (NSW/AEC). The Steering Committee is composed of the following: Brien Hallett, Andrew Moyes (Assistant Commissioner Enrolment and Parliamentary Services, AEC), David Farrell (Australian Electoral Officer for NSW, AEC), Yvonne Harrison, (NSW/AEC), A/Prof Murray Print, Dr. Larry Saha and Dr. Kathy Edwards.

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 enrolment and voting provisions in legislation. The AEC estimates indicate that at the 2004 electoral roll close, approximately 82% young Australians (17–25 years of age) were enrolled (compared with 95% of other Australians), on the electoral roll. Apart from the fact that enrolment and voting are compulsory, the under-registration of eligible young people raises questions about their political interest and commitment to their civic responsibility.

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 will be analysed for their impact and new strategies examined.


The outcomes of the study will be fivefold.

  • To better understand the political socialisation process by which young adults become politically informed and engaged citizens;
  • To understand why large numbers of young people are increasingly disengaged with democracy as evidenced by non-enrolment and non-voting;
  • To identify the specific causes and combination of causes which account for youth non-enrolment in the group aged 17–25 years;
  • To investigate intervention programs that encourage youth to enrol and vote, as well as better prepare youth to become enlightened and active citizens as adults;
  • To publish and disseminate the results of this research widely both nationally and internationally.
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