Will young voters come out this time to vote?

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article reflect those of the author and not necessarily of SFU Volunteer Services.

It’s no secret that voter turnout has been steadily declining these past few decades. In fact, a study released in April 2010 by the Parliamentary Information and Research Service concludes the following:

- that “precipitous decline in electoral participation of those eligible to vote in their first one or two elections began after the 1984 federal general election”;
- that simply aging will not increase the current young generation’s propensity to vote; and
- that “the overall voter turnout in Canada will continue to drop”.

Also, the turnout for the youngest category of voters (18-21) in 2004 was about 38% —an increase from the estimated 25% of 18- to 24-year-olds in 2000— but still quite a low number. These numbers do not bode well for the upcoming federal election.

Youth Vote in Canada

So, what will it take for younger voters to go out and exercise their right? For many non-profit organizations (as well as for many political parties), this has been a question of interest this particular election.

Part of a bigger issue

The low voter turnout amongst young Canadians is part of a bigger trend where Canadians in general are not coming out to vote. Case in point: 2008’s voter turnout of 58.8% was the lowest in history.

But why? There are many reasons for this, but I think it comes down to two things.

First — and this may be a sobering fact — civic engagement is not really sexy. When was the last time you’ve seen students enthusiastically talk about going out to protest, for example? We see some youth engagement online, but for the most part, what we see are cases of slactivism.

I think another reason is because we’re being served the sale ol’ stuff. If you’ve seen the leader debates this year, it is apparent that most of the leaders are more interested in bickering than in discussing real issues. The attack ads this election have also been pretty brutal and have heavily focused on the personalities of the leaders and not on the issues that they’re supposed to be fighting for.

Of course, I also realize that this is a far more complex issue, and there are other reasons for the low voter turnout.

Some encouraging initiatives

This election, many politicians have gone on to open Twitter accounts and Facebook pages in an attempt to reach the younger demographic. Thankfully we’ve also seen many grassroots initiatives. Vote mobs, in particular, have been very popular. UBC had one, SFU had one, and there’s a national one coming up.

There have also been a lot of non-partisan groups in action, including the following:

Get Your Vote On:  “a bunch of young people doing the seemingly impossible –making voting fun/interesting/worth doing for the rest of us”.
Apathy is Boring: a “national non-partisan project” whose mission “is to use art & technology to educate youth about democracy”.
Leadnow: an organization that “brings generations of Canadians together to take action for our future and hold politicians accountable”.

Young voters’ role more important than ever

Unlike the past couple elections, the stakes are higher this time around. Partly, this is because we’re on the verge of possibly electing a majority government for the first time in many years. Part of it, too, is accountability: we’re dealing with a government that has been found to be in contempt of Parliament, that has prorogued Parliament twice, that has threatened the right of women to choose, and that has put pressure on media and the arts. Many of these things affect youth one way or another, and voters will really need to ask themselves if they can afford to sit on the sidelines this time.

My hope is that the many initiatives that we’ve seen this past few weeks translate to some voter engagement on May 2nd.  Voting is actually pretty easy — it literally took an Elections Canada officer 5 minutes in total to sort out my voter information card — but being stuck with a government that you don’t agree with isn’t.

Regardless of the political party of your choice, here’s the bottom line: the right to vote is a privilege that citizens in many countries still fight for. Let us not take it for granted.

If you still have questions about voting, please see our guide here. Are you voting on May 2nd? (Did you already cast your vote during advanced polling?) Do you think the youth will vote this time?

By Kelvin Claveria

Photo: Rabble.ca