Young people were a big reason why the 42nd federal election had the highest voter turnout in decades, says a Statistics Canada survey.
Although they were the least likely age group to vote in last October’s federal election, youth between the ages of 18 and 24 had the biggest gains in voter turnout compared to the 2011 election.
Youth voter turnout grew from 55 per cent in 2011 to 67 per cent in 2015, according to a study commissioned by Elections Canada and administered during Statistics Canada’s November labour force survey.
Voter turnout overall grew from 70 per cent in 2011 to 77 per cent in 2015.
David McGrane, a political science professor at the University of Saskatchewan who predicted that youth voters would shift Canadian politics to the left back in March, said that the Statistics Canada data proves he was right.
“Because more young people voted, that transformed Canadian politics,” McGrane said.
Although Statistics Canada did not ask voters who they voted for on Oct.19, McGrane attributes the Liberal win to their success in engaging youth. The Liberal Party won a historic majority with 39.5 per cent of the popular vote. The Conservative Party took 31.9 per cent of the vote, while the NDP got 19.7 per cent.
His research shows that youth voters are more progressive than older generations but typically have lower voter turnout. Thus, McGrane said, the Liberals got more votes because more young people showed up at the polls.
“High voter turnout of young people can actually change Canadian politics, it can change how the campaigns are run, the ideas that come up during the campaign, and have drastic effects in terms of which parties succeed and which parties fail,” McGrane said.
Youth turnout has been stagnant for the past few elections, which is why the survey’s results are so encouraging, said Henry Milner, a researcher at the University of Montreal who specializes in voter participation.
But it remains to be seen if youth will stay engaged or fall off the political radar, he said. In 2008, U.S. President Barack Obama’s campaign was buoyed by an extraordinary youth voter turnout. Just four years later, the youth vote plummeted back down.
“We need more data that young people’s attentiveness to politics not only went up but is staying up,” Milner told the Toronto Star in an email. “I am skeptical, though I hope I’m wrong.”
The survey didn’t just ask who voted, it asked why people didn’t vote. The most popular reason across all age groups was disinterest in politics — about one in three said they weren’t interested.
Youth were not significantly more disinterested in politics than adults — about 33 per cent of youth said they were disinterested, compared to 32 per cent of all age groups.
But youth were more likely to report electoral process reasons for hampering their voting. About 11 per cent of non-voting youth under 24 said that difficulty proving their identity, getting on the voter list or transportation problems stopped them from voting. Overall, electoral process reasons affected only 8 per cent of non-voters.
“The process issues are always going to hurt young people more, because they’re more transient,” McGrane said.
Some of the survey’s results varied significantly from Elections Canada’s own voter turnout data released last November, based on information taken at the polling station.
While the survey found that 77 per cent of eligible voters voted in last fall’s federal election, Elections Canada reported the real voter turnout was only 68 per cent. Elections Canada reported that it was the highest voter turnout since 1993.
The discrepancies were primarily due to the fact that the Statistics Canada survey is voluntary, said Statistics Canada labour data specialist Jeremy Weeks.
“As a voluntary survey, respondents may have a tendency to overreport their levels of engagement, either because non-voters may be less likely to answer a survey about voting, or because respondents may report voting due to a perceived ‘social desirability,’” Weeks told the Star in an email.
But the gains in voter turnout from election to election are still comparable, Weeks said. The labour force survey found that voter turnout jumped from 70 per cent in 2011 to 77 per cent in 2015, or about a 10 per cent increase. Elections Canada’s own polling data found that voter turnout increased from 61 per cent in 2011 to 68 per cent in 2015, or about an 11.5 per cent increase.
Elections Canada keeps tabs on voter turnout, but polling data including a breakdown by gender and age won’t be made public until the end of the week, said a spokesperson for Elections Canada.