The study uses a mixed-method methodological approach to collect both in-depth qualitative and quantitative data. Initially the study utilised existing non-personal data held by the AEC which will establish benchmark indicators of youth, electoral registration, and voting, and will guide the development of two further data-gathering strategies.
A review of literature on youth participation in democracy and voting has been conducted. Extensive international interest, particularly in Europe, Britain and the United States is evident in addressing the issue of youth disengagement. In countries where voting is not compulsory, youth enrolment and voting is invariably the lowest of any age group. Most western democracies are aware of the implications should the current youth disengagement continue through to later years and are seeking ways to engage their youth in voting.
A key source of data are the 16 electoral divisions (from 150 nationally) selected as case study sites. Our cases covered the main categories of electoral divisions – inner city, mid city-suburban, outer suburban, rural city, rural town and remote. Over a four-year period data will continue to be collected through in-depth group interviews with youth aged 17–25 in school and non-school sites to identify enrolment behaviour and evaluate the effectiveness of various pro-registration and voting interventions. Data collection has been carried out by the principal researchers together with casual research assistants and supported by the Divisional Returning Officers (DROs) of the 16 designated electoral divisions.
Most data in the 16 case studies have been collected through group and individual interviews with students from a range of schools within each of the divisions. These students represent a critical age in terms of enrolment as Australians can enroll at aged seventeen years. Most data have come from focus group interviews with groups of 7–10 students in four schools in each division, usually two government secondary schools, an independent and a Catholic school. In 2003 we interviewed students in year 11 (ages ranged 16–17) and then followed up the same students in 2004 (now aged 16–18). We will contact these students in 2005 and 2006 to determine changes in behaviour and attitudes.
The second data-gathering strategy consists of two national cross sectional surveys of Year 12 senior secondary schools in 2004 and again in 2006 to investigate student attitudes towards enrolment and voting and to identify the effectiveness of Civics and Citizenship Education (CCE) programs in schools.
The purpose of the first national survey of Year 12 students conducted during 2004 was to investigate the factors related to youth attitudes towards enrolment and voting. The survey instrument was developed and pre-tested in late 2003 and revised in early 2004. From a national data-base, a stratified random sample of secondary schools was drawn, controlled for state and type of school. A total of 208 schools were drawn, of which, upon inspection, 12 were declared ineligible because they did not completely fulfill the necessary criteria for the survey.
All sampled schools received an invitation to participate in the survey. Following this initial contact, each school was contacted by phone from and negotiations were initiated about participation in the survey. In the end, 154 schools participated at the time of this report, giving a response rate of 78.6%.
An average of 30 students from each school participated, providing a national sample in excess of 4 600 senior secondary students.
In addition to the main questionnaire, each school received a questionnaire which sought information on type of school, enrolments, and the teaching program related to Civics and Citizenship Education. Finally, each teacher whose class was surveyed was asked to complete a form that provided information of the conditions under which the student questionnaire was completed.