Young voters: Canada needs you

It is not new that youth voter participation has been declining in Canada over the years.

It is not new that youth voter participation has been declining in Canada over the years.

In 2011, only 38.8 per cent of people from 18 to 24 years old made the effort to cast their vote. This turnout was significantly worse than the 43.8 per cent turnout in 2006.

In a Canadian Press story published by the Huffington Post, pollster Nik Nanos said that, if young people had turned out to vote in the same numbers as the population overall in 2011, his research suggests they would have changed not just the outcome of the election but the “tone and content of the political debate.”

“Just the mere act of engaging them could reshape the tone of the dialogue,” he said.

Nanos added his research suggests political leaders could do more to engage young people simply by talking about the issues that concern youth and adopting a more “hopeful, can-do manner.”

So why are politicians not doing more to engage youth? Nanos says politicians necessarily target their messages at those who do vote, and as long as the majority of young people don’t vote, their needs are not going to be addressed. You might have noticed that during this election campaign, all major parties have been focusing on the middle class and on families. A Globe and Mail editorial published April 24, 2015, pointed out that the same thing happened during the 2011 campaign – when politicians did reference youth, it was more often about “youth crime” or “at-risk youth” rather than topics such as university tuition or unemployment. There were few direct references to young voters.

Unfortunately, not discussing topics that matter to youth might be discouraging them from participating in politics.

“We know from the data that young Canadians who don’t vote now probably won’t vote later in life, and yet the message the under-25 crowd is getting in this election is, ‘Your ballot is not needed,’” read the Globe and Mail editorial.

While youth participation has been decreasing over the last decade, the participation rate for people aged 58 and up was over 70 per cent in 2011. In addition, according to Statistics Canada, for the first time, there are more people over 65 than under 14 in the country.

It makes perfect sense that politicians would choose to focus on issues that affect the majority of voters. However, this becomes a vicious cycle where young voters are uninterested, politicians are not trying to engage them, and young voters are not realizing they have the power to change things.

Voting is a privilege. The fact that people have the power to choose their future leaders should not be taken for granted. Millions of people from around the world do not have the same privilege, and many of them are fighting against corrupt dictators who refuse to step out. So is there a way to get young Canadians back in the game?

Elections Canada has been trying to bring registration and voting right to students themselves. One-stop-shops were set up on university campuses, colleges and some YMCAs. For four days – Oct. 5 to 8 – anyone could register to vote and cast a ballot, all within about ten minutes, according to a Global News story.

But the real answer may lie in education. If politicians are not going to change their campaign strategies, we need to empower youth and teach them about the importance of voting. After all, young voters have the power to hold politicians accountable, and they too have a voice.

With a few more days until election day, youth can still choose to make a difference.