Young Australians tend to exercise their democratic choice by blogging or taking part in a protest rally, rather than voting or joining a political party.
Eric Sidoti is heading a research project by the Whitlam Institute (University of Western Sydney), examining how youths engage with the democratic process.
The first phase of the project, launched on Thursday, is a comprehensive literature review of international and Australian research into how young people engage in political life and participate in democracy.
"Young Australians are distrustful of politicians and they are not content to accept the hierarchies in traditional institutions of democracy. They prefer to engage in grassroots campaigns and cause-based activities, where they feel like they can make a difference," said Sidoti.
Sidoti said the review - commissioned by the Whitlam Institute and carried out by Philippa Collin, policy manager at the Inspire Foundation - gives a profound insight into what we do and don't know about young people's democratic participation.
"Philippa Colin's review shows young Australians are anything but apathetic. They are strongly engaged with political issues and social causes such as the environment, poverty, health and an Australian republic," said Sidoti.
However, they feel alienated and marginalised by old, formal, institutionalised politics. The main observations from the review are that young people will vote because they have to, but they do not see the efficacy of voting, he added.
Whitlam Institute's interest in exploring the issue of young people and democracy was prompted originally by the fact that only 84 per cent of 17-25 year olds - including 73 per cent of 18 year olds - were registered to vote as of 2004.
At the time of the 2007 election, there appeared to have been little lift in these numbers. "The underlying attitudes of young people are important for policy makers as they look to the future," he said.