Monday, April 11, 2011

On Elections, Voter Apathy, and the Youth Vote

So up here in Canada, there is a federal election upon us, with the attack ads and smear campaigns in full swing parallel to the normal campaigns. You'll hear about the votes that are being targeted, such as the women's vote, the ethnic vote, the seniors vote. Unfortunately, the folks who come in at 18-25 years old, and even 18-34 years old, end up getting the short shrift. Why? Because they consistently have the worst voter turnout of any group in any election, pretty much ever.

And now, here come the numbers.

In the 2008 election, the 18-24 bracket came in with a paltry 37.4% voter turnout. The 25-34 bracket came in at a slightly better, but still rather weak, 48%. However, the senior vote was far stronger as a percentage, with the 65-74 checking in at 68.4%, and the 75+ at 67.3% [1]. In Ontario, the disparity gets steadily worse: 18-24 year olds come out at a turnout below the national average for the age bracket, at a rate of just 34.1%. Seniors come in at higher than the national average in Ontario, with 65-74 year olds at 68.9%, and 75+ at 71.7%. [2] More galling to me, however, is the voter apathy that's seem to have hit the entire country. Only 58.8% of registered electors - 56.5% of the voting-age population - came out to vote in the 2008 federal election, the worst turnout in history, and the first time ever that the registered-elector turnout dropped below 60%. [3] (The voting-age turnout dropped below 60% in the 2006 federal election, but registered voters still came out at 60.9%.)

So what's the deal? Is the overall apathy caused by the youth apathy? Could be that's the case, could be the other way around, and effects on voting population are pretty complex beasts. But if we focus on youth, there are more reasons. Lack on interest, don't identify with candidates, don't think the candidates care about the youth vote, the feeling that their vote doesn't matter because the candidate they want has the riding locked up, or that the candidate they want has no hope in hell of winning, and more. As much a chicken-and-egg problem that is, just as much of one is how to increase the youth turnout. Do the candidates need to build their platforms with planks to help the student age population? Or does the student-age population need to make their voices heard to get candidates to adjust to them? I'm not sure which, but largely, this is going to be a plea for the latter. If they aren't listening to you, it might be because you aren't speaking, and you speak to a politician with a ballot.

So here's the central point of my piece, and I apologize for it being not nearly as eloquent or comical as Rick Mercer's take, but here I go anyway. There are somewhere around 2-3 million voters in the 18-24 age bracket, and likely equally as many in the 25-34. Based on the numbers above, I'd suggest that there are probably about three million votes or so that aren't coming out in those brackets right now. You, the youth of Canada, have an opportunity to completely BREAK this election, and make your voices heard. So in the next three weeks, take 10-20 minutes out of your day, read CBC, Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, or whatever Canadian news outlet you like, and get informed. They're all on the internet, so no excuses. Find out about the party platforms. Decide what works best for you, or what you think will work best for the country. And then, on May 2nd, after having gotten informed, get out, and get loud. As long as you vote, you count, whether or not your candidate of choice has a chance to win or not. And the more people you convince to vote, the better your chance of being heard.

Vote. Because never has doing something so important been so easy.


1. Elections Canada, Estimation of Voter Turnout by Age Group at the 2008 Federal Election, figure 2, page 6.
2. Elections Canada, Estimation of Voter Turnout by Age Group at the 2008 Federal Election, Table 1, page 68.
3. Elections Canada, Estimation of Voter Turnout by Age Group at the 2008 Federal Election, figure 1, page 5.

Conservative Party of Canada Platform - Detailed .pdf file at bottom of page
Green Party of Canada Platform - Section links at left, link to full .pdf at right
Liberal Party of Canada Platform - Detailed .pdf file at right of page, with section links
New Democratic Party of Canada Platform - Table of contents with links at right; full detailed platform to come