On Campus

Are youth voters behind the NDP surge in Quebec?

New poll data shows young voters aren’t any more likely to vote for Layton. It’s everyone else who is.

The NDP is surging in Quebec and many point to the party’s popularity among young voters as the reason why. Jack Layton’s progressive message, the logic goes, makes him stand out as a legitimate alternative to Gilles Duceppe among left-leaning voters.

But here’s a problem with that storyline: data from the Historica-Dominion Institute’s poll of young voters suggests there isn’t an NDP surge among Quebec youth at all. Its 2011 Inter-generational Study shows young Quebecers are no more likely to vote NDP now than they were in 2008. Back then, the party captured a mere 12 per cent of the vote in Quebec.

The Historica-Dominion survey gathered the opinions of 831 youth aged 18 to 24, including 189 from Quebec. The NDP was the most popular party among young voters in Quebec, capturing 27 per cent support, while the Liberals got 23 per cent, the Bloc Québécois got 21 per cent, and the Conservatives came last with 8 per cent.  (For more results from the study, including a look at which issues matter to young voters, read the next issue of Maclean’s.) Those figures are virtually unchanged from the Institute’s 2008 Youth Election Study, which found 27 per cent of young Quebecers leaning toward the NDP, another 27 per cent supporting the Bloc, 20 per cent behind the Liberals, and 7 per cent leaning Tory.

The youth numbers also mirror last week’s EKOS and CROP polls, give or take a few points. “That seems to indicate the rest of the population is catching up to the youth in considering the NDP rather than a youth surge,” says Allison Harell, a political scientist at the University of Quebec at Montreal. That may be good news for Jack Layton. If his support is more broadly distributed across age groups, she adds, it may translate into more votes on election day. Historically, only about a third of Canadian youth end up voting, compared to nearly two-thirds of the electorate overall.

The big question is whether the current NDP supporters—young or not—will change their minds before election day. Houda Souissi, a 21-year-old labour law student at the University of Montreal has already switched back to Duceppe after a brief dalliance with Layton. After scrutinizing the NDP record, she worries an NDP government could take away provincial powers. She’s also turned-off by Layton’s stance on the long gun registry. Most importantly, she’s wary of inexperienced MPs. “I don’t want to say they’re nobodies,” she says. “But outside of Outremont, we don’t really know who the NDP candidates are.”

Souissi’s worries may be moot come May 3. If the NDP’s surge in the polls translates into actual votes, the party’s Quebec candidates could be well on their way to becoming decidedly mainstream among voters of all ages.

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