Will the surge of young people enrolling to vote affect the next election?

Just before the last federal election there was a rally for marriage equality in the centre of Perth. At the end of the rally I walked around and asked people why they had attended and how they planned to vote in the election.

When it came to younger voters the most common response was concerning. While they articulated they support for marriage equality and voiced statements about same-sex and transgender relationships being equal, they also at alarming frequency said they were not enrolled to vote.

“I’m not really sure how this whole government and voting process works” one young woman said, confirming that she’s never registered to vote. “I’m not enrolled” was the most common answer to the question on voting intentions.

The campaign for marriage equality, forced to resort to a postal survey to gauge the nation’s feelings, has led to a giant push for people to enroll and update their registration. On the the first day after the voting process was announced the Australian Electoral Commission saw a 17 fold increase in applications.

Cafes are offer free coffee for people who use their wi-fi to log on an update their enrollment, nightclubs have staff with i-pads encouraging people to sign up to vote, Australians living overseas are being encouraged to take part in the political process.

Former Liberal leader Dr John Hewson thinks this surge of newly enrolled voters might be an extra challenge for the coalition at the next election.

Appearing on SKY News Hewson dubbed it the ‘Theresa May Effect’ noting that the British PM was expected to have a landslide win in the recent UK election but had only just managed to hold on to government by forming a coalition. A big increase in the number of young people voting is attributed to the unexpected result.

“The young vote in this country is so readily discounted,” Dr Hewson said “It is potentially, I think, so significant and now will be mobilised.”

Younger voters are believed to be more likely to vote for The Greens or Labor over the Liberals and Nationals, which could be a problem for the coalition the next time the country goes to the ballot boxes.

Liberal frontbencher Josh Frydenberg has welcomed the surge of newly engaged voters, saying it’s good for democracy.

“The more people who participate and exercise their natural right to participate in our wonderful, healthy, robust Australian democracy the better, and I look forward to more people registering in the weeks ahead,” he told Sky News.

“The more people who enroll the better, I don’t think you would find a politician who would disagree with that.”

You can enroll to vote and check your address is up to date at the Australian Electoral Commission. To take part in the postal survey on marriage equality you must be enrolled by August 24. 

Graeme Watson

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