How will the youth vote impact this election?

As the first week of the 2022 Federal Election campaign comes to an end, one expert believes young Australians could have a significant impact on the polls this May.

The University of Melbourne’s Youth Research Centre deputy director Hernan Cuervo said one of the biggest issues in the last two years had been related to gender equality, sexism and sexual assault.

These issues were put on the public agenda by the former Australian of the Year Grace Tame and former political staffer Brittany Higgins, who used their own cases to bring those issues to the forefront of debate.

Brittany Higgins and Grace Tame during their address to the National Press Club of Australia in Canberra (James Brickwood/Sydney Morning Herald)

“Here we have a conversation we haven’t had as openly in the public discourse in Australia. It is also led by young people and young adults,” Prof. Cuervo said.

As of March this year, 85.4 per cent of eligible 18-to-24-year-olds have registered to vote, which surpasses the national youth voting target of 85 per cent but it is well below the national average of 96.5 per cent.

Youth activists march to protest against climate inaction on the sidelines of the COP26 UN Climate Summit in Glasgow
Youth activists shout slogans as they march to protest against climate inaction on the sidelines of the COP26 UN Climate Summit in Glasgow on November 5, 2021 (AFP via Getty Images)

Prof. Cuervo said the reason less young people enrol to vote is because they were a highly-mobile group.

“They change residency, they transition from school to work, to university to TAFE and they take a different place of living,” he said.

“It is not that they are disengaged with the political process or civic process, but they might be disenchanted with politicians and traditional party politics.”

He noted the youth voting rate has slowly but steadily increased over the last decade.

Global youth voting impacts

Professor Cuervo highlighted the many times where young people had significant impacts on political outcomes.

Perhaps the most well known is former US President Barak Obama’s 2008 campaign, which engaged minorities through digital media campaigning driven by young people.

“In the western world it was one of the first digitally led kind of campaigns where people were targets through social media platforms,” he said.

Former President Barack Obama speaks at a rally while campaigning for Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden.
Former President Barack Obama speaks at a rally while campaigning for Joe Biden. (AP)

“The same could happen with both political parties. You have all politicians these days on social media, so engaging young people is very important and it can make a difference.”

In another example, the term “youthquake” was used in the United Kingdom after young voters saw British Labour Party deny the Conservative Party an expected majority win.

But Prof. Cuervo also warned a lack of youth voting can have the opposite effect.

“You can also say with Brexit that young people didn’t come out and vote because they thought it was a done deal and that Brexit wasn’t going to win.

“If they don’t show up, it can also make a difference.”

Australian National University politics lecturer Intifar Chowdhury said there was a strong movement to issue-based politics, rather than party politics, among young Australians.

“They (youth voters) tend to base their voting decision on issues that are relevant to their personal lives,” Ms Chowdhury said.

“That means young people tend to align less with political parties and if you are aligning less with political parties that does tend to have a strong effect at the polls.

Anthony Albanese and Scott Morrison (Rhett Wyman, Alex Ellinghausen)

“Suddenly you become a swing voter and as we know, swing votes are very important with tipping election results.”

Ms Chowdhury said politicians should target young Australians through “snappy, colourful messages” on social media instead of negative campaigning.

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