The invisible generation -

The invisible generation


According to a new estimate from Elections Canada, 37.4 of Canadians aged 18-24 voted in the 2008 federal election.

At 58.8 percent, the official turnout at the October 14, 2008 general election is the lowest turnout rate in a federal general election since Confederation. As was noted in Elections Canada’s previous studies of voter turnout by age group2, the decline in Canadian electoral participation has been the focus of considerable academic research and analysis, particularly since the 2000 federal general election. While such research has identified a number of factors related to non-participation, the major reason for the decline in Canadian voter turnout over the past two decades can be traced to the continuing drop-off in voting among the youngest cohorts of electors. As confirmed most recently by Blais and Loewen (2009), there has been a persistent downward trend in the turnout rate of new cohorts of electors, beginning in the 1970s. Coupled with a noticeable decline in the life-cycle effect over the same time period, the result is that younger generations of electors are no longer replacing older generations at rates that are sufficient to maintain overall levels of turnout.


The invisible generation

  1. Allow voting through Facebook and we'll get right on changing those stats.

    • In case you're being even half-serious:

      Electronic voting of any kind has a huge number of issues that simply aren't there with paper ballots. As someone who spends basically every waking moment connected to the 'net either through my phone, my laptop, or my desktop at home, I think that any kind of internet voting has to be one of the worst ideas ever due to the huge potential for fraud and other problems. The convenience would be nice, but there's basically no way to actually make it happen since introducing complexity into the voting system is just a bad idea.

      Paper ballots are pretty much the best option available.

      • It's worked effectively, and without incident, in municipal elections (Markham, ON comes to mind) and association voting. Proper preparation prevents poor performance.

        • One challenge (among many) is the value of changing the results of an election. A municipal election, or a community association vote, impacts far fewer, affects less money, and attracts fewer corporations and evil villains. A federal election (which is 308 separate local elections) has far more opportunities for trouble, and remember that only 20 would need to be impacted to dramatically change the results of an election.

          PPPPP is true, but there is a huge amount of prep work that other districts and areas have failed to actually do. Witness everything Diebold has ever done.

          • You said pretty much everything I was going to. Thanks.

        • I'm giving you a thumb up purely for that alliteration.

      • Wasn't a serious suggestion, but I'm betting it would increase youth participation…

  2. Ah, progress. Onward to the new society, in which voting (along with several other democratic rights) is so passe.

  3. Young people don't vote, sky blue, water wet. News at 11.

    The question is now *how* do we get young people to vote.

  4. Get young people involved in voting for candidates, just like everyone else.

    • Perhaps they could write to us to explain their apathy?

    • TauTologicalEzro. :)

      I've certainly heard all the admonitions to my age group about voting (though I'm far from the target audience for them because voting was the "turning-18 privilege" I looked forward to most). There's been a lot of ink spilled over why the young don't vote, and all manner of suggestions have been raised.

      I suppose online voting has potential, but there are privacy/security challenges that I'm sure Elections Canada is working on. Could the system be reformed to waste fewer votes? Sure, but electoral reform seems dead in the water right now. Could we use a less cynical political climate, or more inspiring leaders? Maybe, but those have to start at the bottom and, frankly, I'm sure plenty of older types could use them too.

      I think that the only particular vulnerability the young have to this problem is not necessarily knowing what they need to do to register, or to vote – which is relatively easy to fix, or at least a known solution.

  5. And part of the answer may be in understanding *why* it is getting worse, election after election.

    I used to think it was as easy as the population growing irritated with the conduct of politicians, watching them year in year out and seeing how The New Boss is no different than The Old Boss (Harper being a perfect case in point) and doing all of the things he promised not to.

    This study seems to suggest that there has got to be something more since the younger voters have not gotten jadded over many elections, they are starting jaded or, more likely, uninterested.

    • I'm not buying the whole idea of young people being jaded about their electoral choices when they first start voting. After all, the more you know about politics, the more likely you are to vote. At least according to Crit Reason's helpful study.

      • I think its better to say "the more you follow politics". I am not really sure that we truly know anything about politics, or that our lay knowledge is in reality any better than someone we would consider uninformed.

      • That's why I said "more likely uninterested".

        I think it is less about knowing more about politics and voting more than it is having more things in your life affected by the decisions of others and therefore caring more about what those decisions are and who is making them. Taxes or employment laws, for big examples.

        • The generation that started working at the age of 15, didn't finish high school, and got married and had their kids before age 30, is wondering why the generations that went through high school, is going through 5-20 years of post secondary education, is starting their careers/families at age 40, is not voting.

          Yeah, it's a brain scratcher.

    • The circular reasoning of "politicians don't do anything about issues I care about, so I don't vote" / "young people don't vote, so we don't have to deal with their issues" has a lot to do with it. As does a focus on memorization of whatever political and social history is taught, rather than an understanding of why it's important. (I'm not going to dive in to the argument about who's responsible, but that's just how things are right now)

      Another thing that youth seem to take to heart is that the "adult world" doesn't impact their everyday lives. They don't associate the GST they pay on lunch with health care transfers; they don't associate the tax break they get on their textbooks with economic policy. (There are exceptions, and we count them among the 37% who vote.) When you think that something in the world has nothing to do with you, doesn't impact you, and operates entirely outside of your world, you're not going to start banging down doors trying to find out more about it. That's as true for adults as it is for youth.

      Whether people who do care step up or youths discover it themselves, I would like to see an interactive tool that makes politics more real for young adults. Something more involved than that 'ol "What's Your Carbon Footprint" calculator, but perhaps in that model.

      • I think that is all probably true about why youth voter turnout is low, but it doesn't really explain why things are getting worse,/i>.

        Some of the commenters below have some good/interesting points to consider.

        • Agreed. Birth rate has also declined (and no, I'm not suggesting that's everything, just another reason to add to the pile).

  6. I bet less than 37.4% of people in that age bracket could tell you who Stephen Harper was. I am 34, and I voted in the last federal election, but it will be the last time I vote. Voting it this country (even moreso in the US) is pointless.

    • If you feel that response is appropriate, great. Maybe we don't *want* you to vote.

      (just hypothetically)

    • Every time you don't vote, you give me more power. So many thanks.

  7. Let me put out a devil's advocatey type thought for discussion…

    There could be worse things than ill-informed citizens self-selecting themselves out of voting. As a society, we've generally prolonged the years of semi-responsibility beyond the teenage years, and perhaps those under 25 are simply too uninvolved with 'adult society' to vote (and they know it).

    Put another way, now that we know most other age segments aren't dropping off at the same rate, maybe we can stop worrying about a generalized apathy and disengagement. I'd rather focus on enhancing youth engagement, education and responsibility than simply trying to convince them to mark ballots.

    (Again, I'm putting this out for discussion, not arguing its veracity!)

    • I would argue that democracy isn't only for the engaged. If it were, government after government would be run based on the premise that "people don't really care what we do, so we can do x" which is rather a dangerous proposition.

      And, that there are responsibilities that come with our rights and freedoms.

      • I take your point, but it seems to me that this study shows that "people" do care – over the age of 25. What benefit is there in convincing otherwise disengaged citizens to vote?

        • If we consider voting to be the gateway drug of political engagement, then it could certainly lead to new policy ideas, an insurgence of new blood in political parties (bringing with them new methods of engagement, money, and views on governance and leadership)…etc.

          In an environment of civil debate (it's a big ask, these days, I know, but let's just go with that for a moment), the greater the diversity of viewpoints argued articulately, the more reasoned and well-considered the final decisions.

          • I think it's the other way around. When there is something of critical interest the voting will follow.

        • None. But there is great benefit in convincing otherwise disengaged citizens to become engaged, and hence more responsible, citizens.

    • Maybe instead of trying to enhance youth engagement, education and responsibility, we (that would be the education system primarily I would imagine) should try to scare the bejezus out of them by telling/showing them what happens when citizens lose the right to vote, or are forced to vote a certain way.

    • I'm on the brink of becoming a full fledged adult and I agree completely. Like I was trying to say above is that the generation of people worried about the poor young voter are part of a generation that for the most part got in the work force in their early teens without completely secondary education. Meanwhile the current generation almost entirely completed high school, for the most part are going through secondary school, some for as long as 20 years. Also, the post secondary education experience is a lot different now. The student's responsibilities and interests are heavily focused on campus.

      I think what old people should do is admit to themselves that they are incapable of understanding younger generations and that it is not responsibility to encourage younger voter turn out. When young adults feel there is a problem with the young adult voter turn out, the young adults will find a solution that work for young adults.

      • You're assuming that by the time "young adults feel there is a problem with the young adult voter turn out," they'll still have the opportunity to do something about the situation.

        • That point needs greater emphasis. Voting is not only a right, it's a responsibility.

  8. In the old days, people generally voted for who they looked to for authority. Community leaders, activists, clergy, the head of a fraternal order, family patriarchs, your union rep, your boss etc. Those authorities would in turn tell their people who they supported (and helped select) for the position of an MP and rally the troops on election day.

    However, nobody really has any connection to their wider community, and few look to others to inform their political decisions. Parents probably have the most weight in steering the votes of the young, but if you don't go to church, don't belong to community organizations, don't volunteer or contribute to charity, how do you get personally invested in the political process?

    You don't. You don't feel like you are belonging to something larger than yourself, so you feel like an anonymous vote among thousands of votes. I wouldn't bother participating in elections either if I was such a strident individualist.

    In order to get people to vote in a representative democracy with a high voter turnout, you need people that listen to the people who meet in the smoke-filled rooms.

  9. The parents of these younger people may vote more reliably, but they're as uninterested in politics as their kids are. Gone are the family discussions around the dinner table about what happened today/this week in government, the essentials of what are largely boring/mystifying issues only reasonably-informed adults are capable of communicating to younger people in a way they will find mildly engaging. They won't develop the habit of paying attention and caring about politics on their own, since the politicians no longer communicate clearly and the journalists who bother to cover the issues and explain things are lonely voices lost in a tsunami of media sensationalism, trivia and opinion from clapped-out hacks and self-interested wonks.

    • I can't disagree with any of this.

  10. I should have perhaps been clearer that more people need to vote for selecting the candidate before the election, rather than simply waiting until election day to choose among the 3-10 candiates picked out for you.

  11. When the status quo both supports our lifestyle and fully nurtures our cynicism, we become a complacent bunch. The majority of Canadians are well served by the status quo, even if we have almost no influence over it.

    No matter who you vote for, society will be guided in the same direction. Whether Liberals or Conservatives are in charge, the elites will continue to guide, the middle class will be adequately looked after and the poorest in society will be paid the usual lip service and hold out hope of making a better life. Us commoners know we cannot influence politics with the current level of complacency and malaise present. So most don't even try, or care, enough to even do the symbolic act of voting anymore.

    The last statement we have the ability to make is to do nothing; which we accomplish rather by accident than by intent.

  12. If we get three judges (one of whom is a real jerk, say, Don Cherry) to evaluate Harper the next time he sings, maybe then they will vote.

    To be honest, I don't think turnout is an important metric of success for a democracy. Not voting is a perfectly legitimate choice if one feels they have no stake in the election, or that none of the candidates adequately fit an individual's viewpoint. It also has the effect that weak preferences don't cancel out strong ones. When indifferent people vote arbitrarily out of a sense of duty they often cancel out the votes of more careful voters that have a clear preference and often a bigger stake in the election.

    • While that's a nice hypothetical reason to not have an issue with low voter turnout, do you think it's the case in practice that people don't vote because they have no stake or that candidates don't fit their viewpoint, or instead that they're trained to ignore politics and are totally uninformed about the issues at hand?

      If people make an informed choice not to vote I'd completely agree, there's nothing wrong with that but if we're creating a situation where people don't vote because they think politics is a fool's game and they can't do a thing to change it then I'd suggest maybe constantly falling turnout is a bad sign.

  13. They are not voting because politics has ceased to be relevant to them. Youth are educated and cynical. They are not apathetic, they are very much engaged – they get involved in their communities, or travel abroad, or become activists or entrepreneurs. They are only apathetic towards politics, and rightfully so.

    Traditional politics is all about politicians talking at the voters – a one-way disingenuous spectacle of spin. Young voters see right through that and walk away. The first politician to decided to actually have an honest, interactive conversation with voters – let's call him or her Politician 2.0 – will find much support among youth, and can bring them back into a process they have been justifiably ignoring.

    • I’m with you right up until you start talking about how thongs will suddenly turn around if young people are engaged by politicians. While that would help, the truth of the matter is that the first question a typical young person would ask is “what is this person’s angle?” It has become a truth that politicians are out for themselves and that they aren’t to be trusted.

      Engagement is nice but it doesn’t address the cynicism at all.

      • On second thought, thongs turning around has the potential to be quite uncomfortable. Things turning around, that’s a different story entirely.

        Typing on a touch-screen phone is always interesting.

        • I wondered about that thong…

          I agree about the first question. My point is that the successful politician of the future will not have an angle. This will require politicians who are actually not just in it for themselves. I know it sounds like a stretch, but the reason I think it's possible is exactly because that will be the only way to win over youth. (Hence my use of the term "honest" as a necessary qualifier for "conversation")

          You say it's "a truth that politicians are out for themselves." For now, that's true. I'm suggesting that a politician who defies that rule can be successful, thanks to the youth vote he or she will be able to get, simply by being direct and honest enough to counter the cynicism. Youthful cynicism may mean that the "good guys" will finally finish first, because no one else (politician 1.0) will be able to get any votes from them.

          • The point I was trying to make is that even if a poltiician does their best with no concern for self-interest, they'll still be assumed to be in it for themselves and no one else. Our faith in the system has been and continues to be eroded this idea is reinforced by political action, and of course it'll be the younger age groups that'll decide to focus on other things since they never got into the habit of thinking that politics were worth paying attention to.

            I'd love for you to be right, that it's possible for someone to try and be honest but I look at the way poltiics works in this country the first thing that springs to mind is "permanent tax on everything", if you get where I'm going with that. Honesty isn't rewarded as things are now.

  14. As much as I'd like to believe that's true, I don't see it in my generation. Apathy, at least in politics, is about the only reason I can see for low voter turnout.

    Today my university got the results back from its annual election for the student execs. These are full-time positions held by students, who control a fair bit on campus, including the campus bar and many shops/food vendors. They're in control of what is a multi-million dollar company funded by our tuition dollars. Voting is done online and takes about 30 seconds, start to finish. Turnout rate was about 10%.

    It's not poor politicians, because that affects all demographics equally. It's not lack of relevant issues. Ultimately it's not even lack of accessibility, as I claimed above (though improving it I think would have an effect). It's that we aren't willing to take an hour out of our days to check a few boxes. Part of that is being busy – between school and/or work, social lives and all the stuff we are involved in, taking time during the middle of the day isn't always easy. But, when it comes right down to it, most of us aren't willing to make the time to decide the future of our country, plain and simple.

    • Let's just say that student politics does nothing to alleviate the cynicism. (Kissinger once said something along the lines of "student politics are the most vicious kind precisely because the stakes are so low").

      Your average student politician is just a younger version of your average politician. What i am saying is that the first politicians at any level to figure out the root of youth voter apathy will be the first politicians to stop treating voters like idiots and speak to them directly and honestly, in conversation. They will be successful – backed by the youth vote – precisely because they are unlike traditional politicians. Once they see it can be done, then more honest, normal people will run for office, and honest normal people will become less cynical and go vote. I believe the cynicism of youth, on other words, has immense potential to basically force a change in our political culture. Pipe dream? Maybe, but the alternative is very depressing.

      • The politicians that don't talk to voters like they're idiots are the ones who lose, more often than not.

        Last year, voter turnout was about the same (it usually is). The only real contest was for the Presidency. One candidate, ran with the front-runners for the other major positions and together, they had an extremely comprehensive plan to tackle the student association's problems. Was it perfect? No, but it was honest. He lost. The guy who won spoke in platitudes about communication, but had no real plan (he went on to lose this year's election for the same position by a wide margin, I'm happy to say).

        The guy who lost went on to serve the student body in other roles, and was even featured in an article on this very website, about tuition and declining student services. My point here is that it's not the quality of candidates that is keeping students home, because even we don't vote for quality candidates when we see them.

        To further this point, one more example from my school. We recently had a referendum on the construction or expansion of building on campus, all of which would exist in a student service role (so, no academic buildings). These things would be paid for by students, added on to tuition. No candidates to turn voters off, and what could be more important to a student body than tuition and services on campus (especially given my campus's distinct lack of study space)? On-line voting, would take 30 seconds. I think we got 15% turnout.

        It's not the quality of candidates, it's just plain apathy.

        • I'm sorry you're having a bad experience at your school, or at least a bad impression of what's happening at your school, but you can't vouch for an entire generation because one group of students fail to inspire its constituency.

          Here for instance, something of a miracle is happening. A girl I went to school with, still in her 20's, announced recently on facebook that she will run for council of our town, a council where the youngest councilor is turning 50 and that is completely isolated from the community. Instantly she received support and suggestions from thousands(in a town of 8000).

          I think Zamprelli is on to something. We'll what happens come election time.

          • I never said it was a bad experience – most people don't bother to look at the issues of the school and if they don't believe it's worth it to vote, I don't think they should. My point is only that young people are not voting because young people can't be bothered to vote. It's not that we just need better candidates, more relevant or salient issues, or even accessibility. It's because young people don't want to.

            A younger woman running for town council doesn't, in the slightest, change that assessment. There are of course young people who are and want to be involved in governance – I'm 21, I do too, but that doesn't mean the generation as a whole does. Where is the support for her coming from? Towns of 8000 are a bit different, many people would know who the candidate is – that doesn't translate into a situation where the young are one of 10's or 100's of thousands and they don't know the candidate.

  15. It is interesting that many have said we need nicer, more engaged politicians to get youth to vote. In part due to my contrarian streak, I am compelled to disagree. After all, if the typical politician was effective, hard working and sincere in their desire to do the best for the country… then which politician we select would not be that important.

    To get people to vote, we need a genuine, deluxe SOB. We need someone to screw over the youth of today so badly they will have to pay attention. Someone willing to bankrupt future generations in order buy immediate political results. Someone willing to look the other way while Canadians human rights are abused. Someone willing to fling puffin poo. Someone willing to let lunatic zealots dictate both policies both foreign and domestic. Someone willing to gamble on reckless environmental policies simply because most of the fallout will be dealt with by future generations.

    Indeed, to make the youth of today appreciate the value of their democratic rights, we need someone with the gumption to simply yank those rights away either for their personal gain or perhaps just out of malicious spite.

    If only some brave soul would take on this daunting and thankless task, and make the sacrifices necessary to be seen as such a prick, surely they should be counted as one of the greatest Canadians of all time.

    • I know you're thinking Harper, but when I read your description I thought

      – buy immediate political results with the money of future generations: Chretien
      – look the other way while Canadian human rights are abused: Chretien
      – let lunatic zealots dictate policies both foreign and domestic: Chretien
      – gamble on reckless environmental policies: Dion

      So other than puffin poo, I have to say most of this was done during the Chretien era and it finally got his party removed from office…but it took several terms, and a successor, and a publicized investigation of point 1. Most people really didn't care too much about 2 and 3, although point 4 did keep Dion from power.

      • Since Chretien ran surpluses, you might say he bought power with the money of the current generation… but at least he ran a balanced budget. (on the backs of the provinces, true).
        You would have to identify the zealots, my impression was Chretien ran his own show.

  16. Personally, I prefer that other people choose not to vote — makes my vote more powerful.

    Don't support not voting, and I encourage all friends and family to exercise their franchise — even when (as is usually the case) they aren't on my side, politically — but if people will insist on being so lazy that they can't haul themselves to their local old folks' home or high school gymnasium once every two or three years (depending on how the provinces and the federal election cycle syncs up), that's their own darned fault. And I won't feel sorry for them — they had their chance.

  17. The reason few in my cohort vote is because we have no money. Our cohort hasn't had the opportunity to get jobs the way past cohorts have, so we don't look at our tax returns and see our tax dollars being passed on to various government solutions. Thus, for the countless others who are jobless, voting will hold little interest because it doesn't affect them personally. They don't see their tax dollars evaporating because we don't have any money in the first place.

    I was top 5% in my university education, had four internships prior to graduating with excellent references, and am working as a babysitter/janitor. My girlfriend was on the Dean's list and it took her over one year to find a job as a secretary that pays $16 an hour. How are the other 95% of our university classmates doing? Not well, I expect. I bet I am in an amusing minority of people who work as a janitor at the age of 26 and have plans to go to graduate school for architecture.

    While several comments in this section have made remarks about us lacking intelligence, having poor attention spans, and us needing Facebook in order to be interested in issues, the reality is that my cohort and age group will be the most highly educated cohort of all time, yet are still expected to fall well short of the earnings that our parents achieved.

    This is all true especially in BC, where our provincial government has removed the majority of services for the underemployed and generally doesn't care about the underprivileged.