When it comes to voting, all young people are not the same

Posted on October 19, 2015 in Inclusion Debates

TheStar.com – Opinion/Commentary – Efforts to persuade more young people to vote will be successful only if they fully appreciate the roots of turnout decline, and many are fraught with misconceptions.
Oct 19 2015.   By: Heather Bastedo

This election campaign has inspired several initiatives aimed at mobilizing disengaged young people, including a petition to enlist the help of Toronto’s own Drake. This is for good reason. Turnout rates plunged in the late 1990s due to a decline in youth voting, and they have yet to recover. More people now stay home than vote for the winning party.

However, these bids will be successful only if they fully appreciate the roots of turnout decline, and many are fraught with misconceptions — namely, that all young people are the same; that fixing the engagement problem will result in a change in government; and that correcting the turnout problem is as simple as talking to a friend.

All young people are not the same: Setting up voting stations on campuses across the country is well-meaning and important on its own, but young people in university are more or less voting at the same rates as they always have.

Rather than campuses, the turnout decline is confined to those with less than a university education, and turnout among young people without a high school diploma has decreased more than 50 percentage points, leaving them almost completely tuned out.

Improving youth engagement, therefore, depends on reaching less educated youth specifically.

A change in government is not necessarily more likely: Another misconception is that there would be a sweeping change in government if only less engaged young people decided to vote. Without a doubt, in this election, young people are more likely to be Liberal. In a recent Ipsos poll, 47 per cent of young people favoured the Liberal party, compared to only 22 per cent who favoured the Conservatives.

But what about those with less than a high school education, the group least likely to vote?

In the same poll, 40 per cent of those in that group favoured the Conservatives, compared to 27 per cent who say they would vote Liberal, and only 20 per cent showing support for the NDP.

In short, the Conservative party stands to gain just as much by addressing the roots of youth apathy.

Correcting youth disengagement takes more than talking to a friend: The final misconception is perhaps the most damning, and that is the understanding that remobilization is as simple as talking to a friend.

Many young people with lower levels of education find it very hard to understand who stands for what when it comes time to vote — not just where to mark the proverbial X. The decision-making process is intimidating and platforms are blurry. Vote Compass and Student Vote are making very important contributions in this area, as they assist young people in navigating the complexity of that process. But these initiatives are not altogether sufficient, as part of the problem is political.

Looking more deeply, we find that youth with lower levels of education are largely ignored by war rooms that see catering to youth as risky. Instead, platforms are constructed to assiduously woo older, more educated voters who can be counted on to come out.

Young people with lower levels of education have different issues — issues that affect them personally and are less likely to be national or discussed during campaigns. As a result, youth believe that politicians can’t relate to how they live and don’t care about them. They have absorbed the message that they don’t matter, creating a spiral of disengagement.

Politicians who care and want to reverse the pattern in their ridings also find it increasingly hard to reach young people. Some knock on doors and others hang out at lunch counters hoping to connect. The public square is all but empty, however, as this generation watches much less television and spends more time online.

Taken together, two new Canadian solitudes emerge: one that includes older, educated Canadians whose issues are catered to and who are engaged in political affairs; and another that includes less-educated, alienated youth who are hard to get to and see politics as a game played by others.

If we sincerely want to stem the tide of disengagement we need to find a way to break down the silos. It will take more than a simple conversation and it may not change the results, but it will improve democratic legitimacy.

Heather Bastedo, PhD, has written extensively about youth engagement and is co-editor of Canadian Democracy from the Ground Up: Perceptions and Performance.

< http://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2015/10/19/when-it-comes-to-voting-all-young-people-are-not-the-same.html >

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One Response to “When it comes to voting, all young people are not the same”

  1. The issue of uneducated, lower class youth effects many political areas however as discussed here with disengagement of uneducated youth in voting results I personally think is uncorrelated. The turnout of this years election jumped up by 7 percent, and the number of early student voters was astonishing, which disproves the notion and ideal that youth are uninterested and “disengaged”. This speaks largely on behalf of the Liberal party, evendiatlly youth are ready and wanting to see a change. In contrary to what this article states, the main deciding factor in reaching the uneducated youth is clearly demonstrated in Justin Trudeau and even in Barack Obama’s campainging techniques. Each of these political leaders had an intensely large internet campaign, covering all aspects of social media is the key to reaching and drawing in the youth as a whole. Realistically youth voters are not turning on the news every night to keep up with political platforms, however they are scrolling through Facebook feeds and reading articles on the newest policies. It is clear that is it not an issue of uneducated youth being disengaged but more of how the information can be transferred to them, the most recent election backs up this theory and proves that covering social media is an excellent way to include the “uneducated youth”.


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