Young Australians are more political than we think, research suggests

This is what being engaged looks like for many young Australians, new research says. Source: AAP

Young Australians aren't disengaged, they just aren't interested in traditional ways of being involved in democracy, new research suggests.

The negative stereotype of young Australians being apathetic and disengaged is a myth, a national political research institute says.

A survey conducted this year suggests young people are less engaged in politics than their elders are, but the difference is not as dramatic as the common stereotype makes out.

The survey, which the Institute of Governance and Policy Analysis (IGPA) designed and Ipsos conducted online, asked more than 1200 survey participants how interested they were in Australian politics. The survey used quotas and weighted results to reflect Australia’s population.

Data the IGPA provided to SBS showed the highest rate of “no interest” in Australian politics was among the youngest age cohort.

However, IGPA research fellow Max Halupka said the results were not strong enough to support the view that young people are disengaged.

The team who worked on the research included Dr Halupka, Professor Mark Evans and Professor Gerry Stoker.

“While [interest] is lower in the youth bracket, it is not so much that it confirms the prevailing narrative of uncoupled youth,” Dr Halupka said.

Young people are engaged in democracy, he said, but it was in ways that generations of Australians were not engaged: signing online petitions, being vocal on social media, blogging and supporting online campaigns.

“Simply put, interest in politics does not equate to disengagement,” Dr Halupka said.

A similar poll, also designed by IGPA and carried out by Ipsos in 2014, showed sharing information on social media and participation in crowd funding were more popular among young people.

The perception young people are disengaged is often kicked around, like in this article from the Lowy Institute. 

“[Young people’s] seeming lack of interest in our democratic system, a finding that is backed now by two successive Lowy Institute polls, should be of huge concern to those who believe in the importance of participation in the civic life of the nation,” the article by Alex Oliver said.

But Professor of Political Sociology, Ariadne Vromen, said casting young people as apathetic was just a popular myth.

“Young people do not feel a dutiful sense of allegiance to traditional forms of electoral, party-based politics,” Professor Vromen said.

“They will be interested when issues resonate with them.”

She said young people were interested in issues like climate change, same-sex marriage, housing affordability and education.

"But these aren't the core issues being discussed in the election campaign," Professor Vromen said.

Professor Vromen is based at The University of Sydney, where her research includes young people and politics, political participation and social movements.

The weighted results of another question from the 2016 Ipsos survey, which the Museum of Australian Democracy (MoAD) funded, suggested young Australian people were less concerned than older Australians about which party wins an election.

The researchers from IGPA said Australian politics was what needed to change.

"A new politics is required to win the hearts and minds of young Australians to ensure that their democratic energies nurture and enhance the quality of Australian democracy," the research said.

"A different politics that is more participatory, open, local and digital."

The research is a joint project between MoAD and IGPA.

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