Are the young giving up on voting?

18-24 year olds as election drop outs

Date published: 2008-02-25 12:50:53 PM

For a decade, voter participation has been falling across Canada. According to the electoral data, in the 1993 federal election, 73 per cent of eligible Canadians exercised their right to vote. This fell to 67 per cent in 1997 and to 61 per cent in 2000.

As part of a larger SSHRC-funded research project, Université de Montréal political scientist André Blais studied the impact of political parties' election campaigns, citizens' motivations for exercising their right to vote, and the value they place upon Canada's democratic institutions. According to Blais, the research shows that the electorate's falling rates of participation are attributable largely to younger Canadians choosing not to vote.

”In comparison to seniors, the young don't vote much and, what's more, they are voting less and less. In the elections held since 1993, more than 80 per cent of “baby-boomers” made their way to the ballot box, while scarcely 40 per cent of younger voters took the trouble,” observes Blais.

This “new generation” of voters—some seven million people—shows little interest in politics. “The young don't necessarily regard exercising their right to vote as a civic responsibility. In this matter, they feel no moral obligation,” says Blais.

It is the less educated among the young who are the least inclined to vote. As a group, they are not well informed and are not inclined to participate in social or political movements or causes. In fact, many appear to be completely disengaged from all such activities.

As a specialist in electoral issues, Blais seeks both to understand what has created this great divide between the young and the political process and to point out paths to follow that will rebuild the bridges between this generation and the electoral system.

Elections Canada, however, cannot wait: the challenge is not only serious, but immediate. Not only do few 18 to 24 year olds vote, but this year's election takes place at the end of the school year, just when many young people are relocating, either to return home for the summer or to go travelling. In order to motivate young people to vote, Elections Canada has launched a publicity campaign that features both television advertisements and a special “youth space” on its Web site. Each of the political parties has also developed strategies aimed at this critically important age group.

But will these various measures succeed in getting more young people to the ballot box this June 28? And if they do not succeed, will it be an overreaction to believe that the future of some of our democratic institutions is in danger?

André Blais' research on voter behaviour is funded by SSHRC's Major Collaborative Research Initiatives program.