Turnout at the 2016 House of Representatives (HoR) elections (91.0 per cent) was the lowest recorded since the introduction of compulsory voting ahead of the 1925 federal election. Turnout at the 2016 Senate elections (91.9 per cent) was the lowest recorded since the 1925 federal election.
While HoR turnout decreased in 2016, effective participation rates (formal votes as a proportion of total potential electors) increased, reflecting higher formality.
There are more divisions consistently showing low levels of turnout than divisions consistently showing high levels of turnout.
The decline in turnout in conjunction with an increase in formality at the 2016 HoR elections is unusual, but not unique.
Turnout and formality both decreased at the 2016 Senate elections.
Lower levels of turnout are most likely to be influenced by age, Indigeneity, socio-economic status, and Federal Direct Enrolment and Update (FDEU) processes, as well as electors’ confidence in the electoral system or politics in general.
- There is a clear relationship between age and voter turnout at the national level. Mark- off data from previous elections suggest that targeting turnout initiatives at people under the age of 40 would be a valid strategy for increasing overall turnout.
- Areas where a higher proportion of the population are Indigenous tend to have lower enrolment and formality rates, indicating that issues relating to Indigenous electoral participation are broader than turnout alone.
- Drivers of low turnout may vary between divisions. For example, the drivers of low turnout in rural divisions may not be the same as those driving low turnout for inner city divisions in Sydney and Melbourne.
- While FDEU processes have an overall positive impact on the voting franchise, the increase in enrolments resulting from FDEU is greater than the increase in the numbers of electors voting as a result of FDEU (thereby producing a modest drop in the turnout rate).
- Results from the 2016 AEC Voter Survey and the 2016 AES survey imply a decrease in elector confidence both in the electoral system and politics in general could be contributing to the decrease in voter turnout.
The services, perceived competitiveness of an election and potential for changes in government may also contribute to decreasing turnout. However, analysis of previous elections suggests that the impact of these factors is minimal.
The declining voter turnout observed at Australian federal elections reflects international trends. Over recent decades, voter turnout has been declining in most developed countries.