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Young people don’t vote for “selfish” reasons: survey

Young people are no longer engaging in politics through traditional forms, according to a national voting survey released this month.

“We know young people aren’t engaging in traditional politics but they’re the most powerful voting voice particularly in a close election,” Katie Acheson, CEO of Youth Action, the New South Wales youth advocacy body which is running the survey, told The Point Magazine.   

The survey found that young people are getting involved in politics through issue based engagement.

“Marriage equality, climate change are the top concerns of young people.  Also some interesting things that you wouldn’t necessarily think young people care about, like tax policy and education policy are also of interest which prove young people aren’t only keen on the ‘selfish’ topics, but rather issues that affect the nation as a whole," she said.

This month former Australian Idol TV host, James Mathison announced he will be running against former Prime Minister Tony Abbott for the seat of Warringah.

Mathison’s campaign was launched on popular youth platforms MTV Australia and via his Facebook page, which has experts talking about the best channels to engage young people.

But Acheson said it doesn’t matter what communication platform you use, it is the policy platform that counts.

People like James are trying to engage the young vote, but if they’re not getting the messaging right and talking about the issues affecting young people, it’s not going to help. What any politician needs to do is listen very clearly to what young people have to say,” Acheson said. 

Some commentators and political analysts have argued that more young people are choosing not to vote, despite voting being compulsory, and see this as a general symptom of youth apathy. 

"How are politicians meant to win the hearts and minds of young people if young people don’t even know who they are? Many young people are disconnected from their local councillors and this has a ripple effect through their State member and Federal member.”

– Ibrahim Taha

However, a recent study undertaken by the Australian Electoral Commission, Youth Electoral Study (YES) Enrolment and Voting, found a disinterest in politics is not the reason young people are not enrolling to vote. Instead, the issue stems from distrust in the political process and current leaders, the study shows.

 “A major disincentive to participate in Australia's democracy, particularly through voting, is the lack of trust in political leaders. Young people widely characterized politicians as liars and promise-breakers,” the study found.

Confirming the report’s findings, Mary Ella, who recently graduated from university with a teaching degree, told The Point Magazine she chooses not to vote because politicians fail to connect with young people.

“I don't trust politicians, especially when those who lead our political parties have never lived the life of the middle class citizen they claim to represent. I'm not sure it will be easy for youth to be reached, when we are firstly taught about politics we are young students in high school. And we aren't really taught about it – we are just told we have to do it,” she said. 

Ibrahim Taha

Dr Philippa Collin, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University, told The Point Magazine that young people are changing their approach to politics.

“What we find is that there is a shift in the way that many young people relate to politics - they are concerned about issues that affect their everyday lives (such as mental health, racism and education) as well as matters affecting the wider community, nation and globe - such as changes in work and the economy, climate change, poverty and war,” she said.

The attitudes of young people towards politics seem consistent when compared to previous elections. The Australia Institute ran a survey around the time of the 2013 federal election, which also found that trust was key to encouraging young people to vote. When asked what makes a politician appealing the survey found 72 per cent of participants said trust was important, 53 per cent said integrity, 55 per cent said leadership, 59 per cent said knowledge and 52 per cent said “doesn't play dirty”.  

Researchers in the field are now urging an alternative form of engagement with young people.

Dr Collin said political parties should recognise that young people are much more engaged in issue-based politics. Young people are more engaged in campaigns and sharing political content online as a form of political expression.

“The 'repertoires' of participation are also diversifying: people are taking part in local organisations, contributing to research, service design and governance - as well as creating or joining groups online, participating in polls, events, sharing content on issues they care about and becoming a member of a movement, such as the Australian Youth Climate Coalition or GetUp. They're also starting up their own social enterprises, campaigns and playing an active part in service design and local government,” Dr Collin said.

Dr Collin said there needs to be more investment in the capabilities of young people and the organisations that represent them.

“A proven way to do this is to create institutional and cultural change that positions young people's interests as central to the core work of government - A Minister for Youth, further investment in the Children's Commissioner, resourcing for a national voice for young people - like the Australian Youth Affairs Coalition and - to coordinate and amplify the amazing work being done by young people and other organisations.”

Ibrahim Taha, a Year 11 student from Homebush Boys High School, is interested in becoming politically active. Taha has been nominated by his local state MP to participate in the YMCA NSW Youth Parliament.

Taha told The Point Magazine that engagement with young people has to go beyond just enrolling them to vote.

“How are politicians meant to win the hearts and minds of young people if young people don’t even know who they are? Many young people are disconnected from their local councillors and this has a ripple effect through their State member and Federal member.”

Ibrahim said it was important for politicians to be clear in their policies ahead of the federal election.

“The policies have to appeal to young people by fixing the language and jargon. Policies shouldn’t be overly complex or overly simplistic. Young people aren’t stupid. They are worldly, tech-savvy and intelligent,” he said.

The Point

Young people are no longer engaging in politics through traditional forms, according to a national voting survey released this month.

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