bored teens

Younger voters are significantly less interested in politics than other voters, and social media may be the best way for parties to reach young people, new data from Essential Research confirms.

With all parties imploring the half a million young Australians not registered to vote to get on the electoral rolls before they close and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd asking young people to re-engage with politics, the evidence shows young people are significantly less interested in politics than older voters.

Essential’s polling, from a sample of more than 2000 people over recent weeks, shows dramatic differences across age groups, education levels and even gender on how engaged Australians are.

Just 7% of 18- to 24-year-olds said they were “very interested” in politics, and 26% said they were “quite interested”. The level of interest increased as people got older; that 33% level of interest compares with 39% of 25- to 34-year-olds, 43% of 35- to 44-year-olds, 47% of 45-to 54-year-olds,  and 59% of those over 55.

The 18-24 group is a small sample compared to the others, but even when they’re added to the 25-34 group, only 37% of people under 35  are interested in politics. Meanwhile, 27% of 18-24s profess to have little or no interest at all in politics, and 30% of 25-34s; that compares with 24% of 35-44s, just 23% of people 45 to 54, 12% of people aged 55 to 64 and just 10% of over 65s.

The numbers suggest that the absence of young Australians from electoral rolls isn’t an oversight but a clear choice reflecting their lack of interest in the political process.

But interest also tracks education as well as age. Some 36% of those with qualifications below year 12 are interested in politics, compared with 41% of those who completed year 12, some 46% and 48% of those with a trade qualification or other post-secondary qualification respectively, and 53% of those with a university degree.

There’s also a significant gender gap: 39% of women profess interest in politics compared with 53% of men; conversely, 27% of women have little or not interest, compared to 17% of men.

In short, in an election campaign where the two main parties are now led once again by middle-aged men, young people and women are significantly less engaged than men and older voters.

This gender gap carries through to consumption of political news and commentary in the media. Some 29% of women read newspapers about politics daily or a few times a week, compared with 39% of men; 66% of women watch TV for political news daily or a few times a week, compared with 73% of men; 44% of women listen to radio compared with 52% of men, and the numbers are 39% to 52% for news websites. The proportion of women who “never” use media for political news is consistently much higher than for men — 21% of women never listen to radio for political news compared with 13% of men, for instance. Only on use of social media for political news and commentary are men and women the same: 28% for women and 27% of men.

Social media is the key source of political news for young people, suggesting that any attempt to re-engage them will stand the greatest chance of success via platforms like Facebook (mainly), Twitter and Tumblr: 49% of 18-24s say they use social media daily or a few times a week for political news, compared with 46% for TV, 44% for news websites, 31% for newspapers and 30% for radio.

Other demographics rely far more heavily on traditional media; even 25- to 34-year-olds mainly use TV (59%), news websites (49%) and radio (44%). Newspapers are primarily for older voters: the level of frequent usage of newspapers for political news doesn’t get over 40% until you reach people over 65; some 53-54% of people aged 25-44 don’t read political news in newspapers at all, or only rarely. However, newspaper consumption for political news — like TV and radio — is relatively evenly distributed across educational levels, unlike news websites, where usage increases as educational qualifications rise (below year 12: 17%, university degree, 35%).

All up, of course, TV remains far and away the key medium for political news: 46% of voters use TV daily for political news and 23% a few times a week

And despite conservative sneering at social media as a bastion of latte-sipping elites, 29% of people with year 12 qualifications use social media regularly for political news compared to 34% of voters with university degrees and 28% of people with other post-secondary qualifications.

As for blogs — 61% of voters never read them for politics, including 47-48% of people under 35 and more than 70% of people over 45.

*Essential Research is a part of Essential Media Communications (EMC). EM Advertising, a business wholly owned by EMC, is contracted by the ALP to provide advertising for the federal election campaign. Directors, staff and contractors working on the EM Advertising business have no involvement in the production of the Essential Report. Your Source manages Essential’s online research panel. Essential Research and Your Source are ISO accredited market research companies.

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