Young People and Democracy

Did you know that young people make up 30 per cent of the voters in Australia?  And they had a decisive impact on the last four elections?  In 2007 the young vote flooded to Labor and Kevin 07, quickly followed by a swing to the Greens in the 2010 election.  The young vote moves quickly, no longer having a long term commitment to the ideals of any political party.

But many young Australians are not enrolled to vote.  Only 80 per cent of 18-24 year olds are enrolled.  Recent research from the Youth Electoral Study (YES) research group has shown that only 30% of young people would enrol to vote if it weren't compulsory; around 30% indicated they would not enrol or vote; and, around 30% indicated they would enrol to vote sometimes.

Young people are disinterested in party politics, yet young people are active in a different political sphere, one that exists outside the traditional democratic system.  Young people rally around single issues where they can see outcomes for their actions.  The Australian Youth Climate Change Coalition, for instance, has over 70 000 members.  That's double the national membership of the Australian Labor Party.  Young voters are more likely to be engaged online where they can see immediate responses to their actions: think of the response to the Abel Tasman super trawler (legislation change), and Julia Gillard's misogyny speech (placing gender issues firmly in the spotlight).

How can we harness the energy of young people to improve the current political system?  With such a large incentive to engage the younger generation - 30% of the vote (more if all are enrolled) - it is surprising that the major parties haven't made this a focus.  There is a need to consult the younger generation to develop processes and policies that appeal to them.  And perhaps young people need to find ways of making this happen.  One thing is certain, it's a weaker democratic system with a disinterested and disengaged younger generation.  One wonders what the voting profile of this generation will look like as it ages.  In any case, with a weakening base of long term supporters the prognosis looks bad for the traditional political parties.


Check out this article from the Australian for more info.

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