It’s confirmed: a record number of young Australians are enrolled to vote in the upcoming May federal election. Does this reflect young people’s greater interest in policy issues or is it just a matter of the ease of contemporary online enrolment.

What are the numbers?

The youth enrolment rate is at the highest level ever with an estimated 88.8% of eligible 18 to 24-year-olds enrolled to vote, according to the Australian Electoral Commission.

In the final week of enrolments, 70,000 people between the ages of 18 and 24 enrolled.

“This is a significant youth enrolment number and is unheard of all across the world,”said AEC media spokesman Evan Ekin-Smyth.

Overall, the national enrolment rate across all Australians is at its highest level with 96.8%. In 2010, the number sat at 90.9%.

The 1.4% uptick in Australian youth signed up to vote since the last federal election — at 87.4% — has eclipsed the number of young people enrolled to have their say in the 2017 marriage equality plebiscite, which stood at 88.6%.

Was the marriage equality plebiscite part of this shift?

Political sociology professor Ariadne Vromen from the University of Sydney said while the marriage equality plebiscite in 2017 was an important moment that may have encouraged young people to step up and enrol, she believed the main reason was the AEC’s direct enrolment policy change in 2012.

She said direct enrolment had allowed the AEC to “access data from a number of state and government agencies … from Centrelink, the tax office, to birth deaths marriages and the department of education” to obtain information on citizens, which translated into automatic enrolments.

Vromen said the same sex marriage plebiscite would certainly “have forced people to check if they’re enrolled”.

Ekin-Smyth said people were speculating that the marriage equality plebiscite had mobilised youth voters, but there was no data to make that conjecture.

Is technology influencing enrolment?

The AEC also claim the introduction of online enrolments — signatures on phones, no hard copy forms — made it easier for young Australians to enrol to vote.

Two of the four biggest technology companies, Facebook and Google, also took it upon themselves, in consultation with the AEC, to remind Australians to enrol to vote.

A Facebook announcement, which showed up on Australian Facebook news feeds, received 11 million impressions and 230,000 people clicked through to the AEC enrolment page.

What issues are galvanising younger voters?

Zareh Ghazarian, senior lecturer at Monash University’s School of Social Sciences also said young people appeared to be galvanised and “really passionate” about social, economic environmental and infrastructural issues.

“The availability of the NBN is something young people have talked to us about,” Ghazarian said.

He said young Australians were not only mobilising “to have their voices heard in online spaces”, but were going beyond participating in non-institutional forms of democracy like marching and signing petitions.  

“They are embracing the opportunity have direct say.”

He said factors — including AEC’s direct enrolment policy — along with social media and new technology has allowed young “digital native” Australians to be better informed than ever before.

Thousands of young people across the world, including Australia, have taken part in school strikes to protest government inaction on climate changes this year, marking signifying youth mobilisation concerning a number of policy issues.

“What we are seeing when we are seeing, though … not many young people are confident about voting.

“They’re into politics, but some of them have said they don’t know how to vote, or don’t know who they’re voting for.

“As a broader community and society we should enhance political literacy.”

What do you think record enrolment numbers reflect? Write to [email protected] with your full name and let us know.