The youth vote 2013

by on 27 August, 2013



Winston Churchill once observed, “If you are not a liberal at twenty you have no heart, if you’re not a conservative at forty you have no brain.”

Much has been said and speculated about the “youth vote” – the demographic aged between 18 and 24 and to a very considerable extent a lot of what is said or claimed just isn’t supported by the facts.

There are officially 14,712,799 people enrolled to vote on September 7. Between the calling of the election and the close of electoral rolls, 624,539 people signed up yet, of those, only 3,641 were aged 18 or 19 and only 21,787 were aged 20 to 24. A whopping 47% are aged over 50.

The Young Labor Association (YLA), which likes to describe itself as the largest youth political organisation in the country says it has over 10,000 members aged between 14 and 26. The National Seniors Association has over 200,000 over 50.

It is estimated that about half a million eligible voters aged 18 to 25 are not enrolled and this is a huge 12% of the electorate – consider that the total vote difference between the two major parties in the 2010 election was about 30,000. About one-fifth of this age group is not registered to vote – the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) says 1.9 million people aged 18 to 24 are enrolled while 400,000 are not. 

Studies show that even young voters who are enrolled are less likely to vote than older people. Reflecting Churchill’s observation, the older people get the more likely they are to be conservative.

The Whitlam Institute has reported that young people are more likely to vote on issues that are important to them rather than on party allegiances. They said, “For example, same sex marriage, the way we treat asylum seekers, climate change or action on global poverty are issues that are brought up right across Australia” but those who are passionate about these issues are more likely to vote for The Greens.  

PM Rudd likes to mix with young people, get treated as a pop star and portray himself as king of the kids and a super cool dude  – that is when he is not parading around as an international statesman, wise policy guru and finance manager of pure genius ability. His confected use of what he thinks is youth slang such as “gotta zip” is embarrassingly naff for young people and hugely amusing for the rest.

Surrounded by throngs of screaming school girls who seem to regard him as another member of boy band One Direction, Rudd appears both tremendously pleased yet distinctly out of place. In any case, they don’t vote.

If my parents – about a century ago it seems – had been given to describing something as “cool” I would have curled up in embarrassment. Fortunately, they didn’t. 

The ALP has imported US whizz kids who worked on President Obama’s social media campaign to connect with the youth demographic. While the youth demographic is more likely to rely on social media rather than mainstream media for their political news, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they will enrol to vote or even vote once enrolled.

The ALP has announced that it is going to ramp up its campaign in favour of gay marriage with a serious concentration on social media complete with celebrity endorsements, given the acknowledged fact that young people are far more inclined to be in favour. There will also be letterbox drops, mainstream media advertising and other strategies.

But it will probably be a waste of time, money and resources. While a recent Fairfax/Nielson poll nationally showed 65% general approval of gay marriage, only 16% said the issue was “very important”. There is a very real risk this campaign could alienate older ALP voters, especially working class men.

It can be an important factor in some electorates. The Brisbane electorate is held by the LNP’s Teresa Gambaro with a 1.1% margin, it is certainly the “gayest” electorate and she recently announced, after tip-toeing around the issue, that she would vote in favour if a conscience vote was allowed.

Yet in Blair – centred on Ipswich and the very socially conservative surrounding rural areas – sitting Labor MP, Shayne Neumann, remains steadfastly opposed. He can only hope that this new ALP campaign initiative is ignored. In a throw-back to Whitlam’s campaign in 1972, this campaign is headed, “It’s time” which hardly shows any originality but, I suppose, 1972 for young voters is as distant as Curtin is for me.

Back in February, the national Young Labor Association held its conference in Canberra. One highlight which impressed me was a motion from NSW right faction delegates entitled, “John Faulkner is a contemptible charlatan” which claimed that the veteran left-wing Labor icon, “has now successfully joined the ranks of the sideline whiners and the hypocritical teetotallers that are those few ALP politicians, whether former or current, who complain about the processes of the Australian Labor Party despite the deeply hypocritical nature of their complaints.”

While the grammar doesn’t provide any reason to feel confident about the NSW education system, there is something weirdly comforting about this – the NSW Right Faction leaders of the future have learned much at the feet of their elders.  Given that the NSW Right re-installed Rudd, perhaps this was a portent for Rudd’s plea for a “kinder, gentler” debate.

God only knows how they could bag Abbott with stronger language – perhaps they could implicate him in the holocaust.

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