With the electorate projected to age rapidly between now and 2040, younger voters will become a significant part of the voting population. Millennials and Gen Z enter the electorate with HECS debt, poor job prospects and housing affordability issues.
At the last election, Gen Z entered the electorate viewing the Coalition more unfavourably than any previous generation on record. It is hard to see how they can move towards the Coalition at a rate that will offset their low initial level of support.
Getting young people to vote
Getting young people involved in politics and elections is one of the main challenges facing all governments. The reason why is not that difficult to understand: the most important factor influencing the level of electoral participation is the desire to have one’s opinions heard.
Generally, this requires voting. It is a basic right and an essential ingredient of democracy. Yet there are reasons to doubt whether the younger generations really want to make their voices heard. They often feel that voting is a chore imposed on them by the adults in their lives and that it has little to do with them. In fact, there is good evidence that young voters can be convinced that they have something to contribute to political debates and decisions, as well as to the electoral system as a whole.
For that reason, it is crucial that all actors concerned with electoral affairs take steps to encourage and promote youth participation in the democratic process. This should be done at both the local and national level, as well as in the field of civic education.
A great many of the issues that concern young people can be addressed through relatively simple action programmes. For example, if a young person feels that they are not being adequately represented in parliament, they can lobby their local member of parliament directly. The YACVic has produced a guide for young people on how to do this.
Another area where there is room for intervention is in the area of voter registration. Public authorities can make voter registration facilities available in places and at events frequented by young people (e.g. schools, university campuses, youth activities) and can offer facilities for registration by mail or toll-free phone or fax.
Of course, it is also necessary to teach young people the cognitive skills required to assess competing arguments and positions in an election. They need to be provided with information on the different positions of political parties and candidates and to be given an opportunity to discuss these in public, media or school-based forums.
The role of parties
Young voters can have a significant impact in marginal seats. This is because, unlike older voters, they have the opportunity to shape the election result by casting their ballots for candidates of all parties in each electoral division. The Electoral Act allows them to choose the most appropriate candidate to represent their interests.
In addition, young voters have the opportunity to vote in the Senate, which is an upper house of Australia’s Parliament that is a powerful check and balance on the elected government. It uses a proportional representation system, which provides greater scope for independents and smaller parties to be represented in parliament.
However, in order to make a meaningful choice, young people need to develop cognitive skills that enable them to evaluate competing views and positions of political parties and candidates. This necessitates being provid- ed with effective information and background knowledge on the issues. It also requires facilitating public, media and school-based debates and the provision of non-partisan voting guides.
As such, it is important that young people be encouraged to participate in elections and form good habits of voting at a young age. This can be achieved by appealing to their sense of civic spirit, patriotism and responsibilities as citizens. It can also be achieved by engaging them in political discussions with their family and friends, or by providing them with the tools to become active participants in their communities.
A key aspect of this is the provision of access to easily accessible and convenient polling stations. Moreover, it is also important to make the voter registration process easy and understandable for young people. Other measures that can be taken to facilitate voter participation include compulsory voting laws, the use of secret ballots, lowering the voting age and making first-time voting special.
Whether or not politicians take advantage of these opportunities depends on how well they know their constituents and the extent to which they are informed about the issues facing their constituencies. It also depends on their capacity to develop and implement effective strategies for attracting, mobilising and retaining young voters.
The role of the media
In many countries, the media play a pivotal role in shaping elections and public beliefs. This is particularly true in areas of political change such as disability, climate change and economic development. The media can also play a key role in voter education, especially among young people. This is largely due to the media’s ability to reach large numbers of people and to focus attention on particular issues.
The media can provide information on the policies and proposals of the various parties and candidates, and help voters to understand the mechanics of voting. This can be a key factor in increasing voter turnout, particularly for those who are voting for the first time.
However, the media can also misinform voters and distort public opinion. This can be particularly problematic in an election where the outcome is close and the parties are fighting hard to win votes. In this case, the media should ensure that their reporting is accurate and impartial.
This can be achieved by providing a balanced and comprehensive coverage of the election, and by not using scare tactics or exaggerated claims. The media should also be transparent about their funding sources and avoid using their influence to favour one party or candidate over another.
The media should also make it easier for young people to vote by providing a sufficient number of convenient polling stations and good electoral information. Additionally, the media should not publish misleading and inaccurate political advertisements during the media blackout period that applies from the Wednesday before polling day until the close of voting on polling day.
It is also important to make sure that electoral laws are properly administered, including provisions relating to the Electoral Commissioner’s power to seek withdrawals or retractions of political advertising. This is a crucial element in maintaining the integrity of our electoral system.
Finally, the media should encourage young people to get involved in politics by encouraging them to attend political rallies and debates. By doing this, they will be able to see for themselves the impact of different political systems and be better informed about the issues facing them in their lives.
The role of government
The state government is the key official policy-maker that can address youth voting participation problems. Its decisions can shape the political system and, through it, the outcomes of elections. Policy-makers can use a variety of strategies to encourage voters, such as voter registration; civic education; mock elections; and measures to facilitate voting. These include compulsory vote- ing laws; measures to iden- tify and count votes; and lowering the voting age.
The first step in influencing young people is to get them registered as voters. This can be done through various channels, including public schools, which are a captive audience. Schools can also run a mock election, and this can help students understand the role of the vote and their responsibility as citizens.
Many governments have lowered the voting age to 18 or 19. This is a good move, as it is a time when most students complete their secondary education. However, it is difficult to reach all young people through schools. They may be in work or pursuing their studies. To ensure that they can be reached, it is essential to use all available channels.
South Australia’s political climate was more receptive to the idea of popular representation than most other Australian colonies. Its initial commitment to religious toleration attracted a disproportionate number of Nonconformists, who voted in large numbers. It was the first colony to give legal recognition to trade unions. It was also an early industrializer, and its affluence depended on the protection it gave to local car, household appliance, shipping, and electrical industries.
Its constitution requires a group of candidates to win a majority of the lower house seats at a general election to form a government. The constitution also required that electoral boundaries have to be redrawn every eight years. The Electoral Districts Boundaries Commission, consisting of the senior puisne judge of the Supreme Court, the Electoral Commissioner and the Surveyor-General, conducts these redistributions. The Commission can only change a district’s number of electors by 10%. Any other changes must be approved by the Governor-General. This is to protect the integrity of the electoral process and prevent partisan interests from influencing the redrawing of electoral boundaries.