Why do Young Canadians Vote Less than Others?

In POLI 1100 today, we looked at a table (from Dyck–Studying Politics) that demonstrated low (relative to other age groups) levels of political interest and politics are amongst young Canadians. We explored (that is, I asked students to conjecture about) some of the potential reasons for this in class.

A recent report by Marion Menard of the Social Affairs Division of the Canadian Library of Parliament explores a few potential causes of low voter turnout amongst Canadian youth. She lists four:

1 No Issues of Interest to Young People?

The explanation most often provided is that the issues that are important to young people are not part of the political parties’ election platforms. However, this hypothesis is challenged by political scientists who conducted a study for Elections Canada following the federal election in 2004. According to Elizabeth Gidengil and her fellow researchers, for instance, health was cited as a key issue for all survey respondents, regardless of age:

Issues that concern many young people are on the political agenda, and the political parties are taking positions on these issues. The problem seems to be that too often these messages are just not registering with a significant proportion of younger Canadians

2 Lack of Political Knowledge?

The authors of the Gidengil study asserted that there were “striking” gaps in young Canadians’ knowledge of politics.6 There is also consensus in the academic community that a significant number of young voters go to the polls without the necessary tools to make an informed decision.7 According to researchers, young people know little or nothing about the politicians and have no idea how the political institutions that run the country function. In a study conducted for the Institute for Research on Public Policy (IPRP), Henry Milner established a cause and effect relationship between the level of political knowledge and youth electoral participation.

3 Lack of Trust in the System?

According to Brenda O’Neill of the University of Manitoba, beyond limited knowledge about the political system, voters both young and old show a lack of interest in public affairs. She says that many voters doubt that voting every four years can truly influencethe decision-making process, and as a result, people stay away from the polls, which can lead to distrust and even cynicism over time

4 Media Influence?

When the issue of cynicism is raised, the media are often singled out as the culprits. Television is mentioned in particular since it tends to focus on the conflicts in politics.10

Yet media use reportedly has a positive impact overall on the acquisition of political knowledge, although its efficacy depends on the medium used. Reading newspapers and news websites has a strong positive impact on the electoral participation of young Canadians, while watching television and listening to the radio do not have as marked an effect.

Which of these do you think is the most important? If so, what is a potential remedy (assuming you share the view that youth political participation should be increased)?

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