Why do so many young people keep registering to vote?

Paul Berkowitz | 6 June 2016

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The original joke goes along the lines of “The oldest man in the world has died. Again. Why does this keep happening?”.  Granted, it's not the world's funniest joke but the death of the world's oldest man and the registration of the world's youngest voters have something in common – they're not a trick of the light but simple demographics.

The recent report from the IEC on voter registrations included the fact that almost three quarters of the new registered voters (just over a million people out of almost 1.4 million) are aged between 18 and 29 years. The numbers and corresponding graph are reproduced below:

New voter registrations by age and gender
New voter registrations by age and gender

A few people have asked if this brace of budding balloters means anything in the greater scheme of things: will more young registered voters have an effect on closely contested metros, and so forth.

Before we answer that question, let's look at the comparative registration statistics for the 2011 elections:

New voter registrations in 2011
New voter registrations in 2011

Almost 71 per cent of new registrations in 2011 were aged between 18 and 25, compared with 74 per cent of registrations in 2016. If you add the 16-to-17-year-olds who registered to vote (i,e, expand the cohort to include people between 16 and 25 years) then you reach around 80 per cent of new registrations in both years.

What's going on here?

What if I told you (using my best Laurence Fishburne voice) that once you were on the voter's roll you could only get off it if you died?

It's as simple as that. The maximum times that you can register as a voter is once in your whole life. You can re-register and change the details of your voting location but once you're on the roll you're on.

If you compare  the number of registered voters in each age cohort with the number of people in each age cohort, you'll see that the proportion of people who are registered to vote increases as the age of voters increases. Typically, less than half of people younger than 25 are registered to vote, but around 80 per cent of people over 40 are registered to vote.

Think about it like this: In 2011, about half of all the 16-to-25-year-olds registered to vote and half did not. This age cohort is now the 21-to-30-year-olds of 2016.  Up to half of the people who didn't register in 2011 might have registered in 2016 – or up to a quarter of the total age cohort, because the half that registered back in 2011 can't be new registrations.

This still doesn't answer the question of what the young registered guns of 2016 might do on August 3. Will they even show up to vote at all? These questions will be revisited in subsequent posts.