Hewson's View

One of the most significant unintended consequences of the postal plebiscite is the many thousands of younger Australians now motivated to join the electoral rolls, and to get active in our political system. 

NEW FORCE: The postal vote on same-sex marriage may backfire on the government, with young people mobilising to join the electoral roll in greater numbers. Photo: Shutterstock.com.

NEW FORCE: The postal vote on same-sex marriage may backfire on the government, with young people mobilising to join the electoral roll in greater numbers. Photo: Shutterstock.com.

Not only will this be important in determining the outcome of the postal vote on same-sex marriage, but it will probably see the youth vote being much more influential in future elections.

One of the great ironies of the ‘conservative’ motivations in advocating a postal vote, which they did in the expectation that older voters would have a dominant influence (many youth under 30 have probably never even sent a letter), is that the youth vote may be quite significant.

Moreover, youth will probably tend to vote more Green, or Labor, rather than Liberal, or conservative, making it more difficult for the LNP to retain/win government in the future.

It is not an exaggeration to claim that traditionally youth have failed to recognize their potential as a political movement. This is especially so if they were to recognize the significance of their proficiency with Facebook, Instagram, and social media generally, which are becoming so significant in targeting messages fundamental to effective campaigning these days.

But, up until recently, many youth preferred to opt out of politics, many resisting even registering on the electoral roll. 

To a significant extent, they have felt excluded, even ignored, by the older, somewhat narrow-minded, politicians, mostly male, that ‘run the country’. This has been compounded as successive governments have cut education funding, done little to enhance housing affordability, and job security, and generally played politics with longer-term issues of particular significance to youth. These include budget repair and climate policy, both conspicuous examples of ‘inter-generational theft’, where today’s youth and subsequent generations will be forced to ‘pick up the tab’, and live with the consequences.

In short, many youth fear that they will not be as well off, or have the same advantages and opportunities, that were enjoyed by their parents.

However, we have seen recent evidence in the UK of the power of the youth vote, which some are arguing is the beginning of a ‘global generational shift’ of voting and political engagement with implications broader than the borders of the UK.

The Brexit vote was followed by what has been called a ‘youthquake’, with a massive surge in voter turnout among 18-24 year-olds. When Teresa May called an early election claiming, stupidly, to want to win at least a 100 seat majority to provide a strong basis for the two-year Brexit negotiations, young voters turned out in force, with the effect that May was reduced to a minority government, leaving her in a particularly weak position in those negotiations, while providing a stunning turnaround for the left-wing, Corbyn-led, Labour Party and its socialist policies.

It is estimated, in the UK world of non-compulsory voting, that the turnout of 18-24 year olds was in excess of 70 percent at the recent election, compared with just over 40 percent in the 2015 election. Similar shifts were also evident in support for Sanders in the 2016 US primaries, and for Melenchon in the first round of the recent French Presidential elections.

About 20 percent of our electorate is aged under 30, nearly 3 million voters. Given the small margins, 1,000-3,000 votes, that determine the outcome of say the 10 most marginal government seats, it will be important to recognize the likely significance of the re-emergence of the youth vote.

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