Tomorrow's voters speak out today.
By Amanda Taccone
Student Vote 2004 Youthbeat
June 29, 2004
The Student Vote 2004 National Results are in, and the picture from the parallel election isn't that different from what has played out in the federal arena.
Students took to the polls during the month of June, often hosting all-candidates debates, voting in their schools, and finally choosing from the actual candidates running in their riding.
Young voters were more evenly divided than the general electorate. While the Liberals took more seats in the student vote (102 vs. 85 for the Conservatives), the Conservatives won slightly more of the popular vote with 31.1 per cent (compared to 29.2 per cent for the Liberals).
Where young people's opinions seem to differ is in their support for the NDP and Green Party. Of the almost 250,000 students who voted, 23.8 per cent chose the NDP, giving them 50 of the 267 seats in the House of Commons that reported student results. The Green Party took three seats and 10.4 per cent of the popular vote. These results show them with much stronger support among youth than among voters.
Dr. Patrick Brennan, a politics and media expert at the University of Calgary, thinks the young, positive focus of the NDP and Green Party campaigns helped bolster their support among young people.
"One of the things [Jack] Layton was made leader for, was he was going to revitalize youth voting and get a lot of young people to vote for the NDP. They were going to reach out to the anti-globalization protesters and environmentalists, and that doesn't seem to have happened in the real election," Brennan says. "But obviously in the youth vote the NDP are doing very well."
Shelley Smith is a consultant at D-Code, a research strategy and innovation company focused on youth. She agrees that the optimism that often comes with youth played a part in the student results, and adds that their tendency to look at the bigger picture also plays a role.
"My theory about the NDP is that students are more inclined to think a certain way. They're young, they're optimistic, and they're less connected to the state and the benefits and the sacrifices of the state in terms of taxes and the benefits of health care, and so forth. They're not only thinking in terms of self-interest. They're thinking more in terms of values and principles, and what really resonates with them within a society...they tend to be more optimistic, more idealistic, more value-based."
The fact that youth appear to be among the most media savvy, may have also contributed to their choice to support so-called "younger" parties.
Brennan refers to the positive advertising done by the Green Party and the NDP. "Youth are very media, and especially video savvy," he says. "And I would have thought that young people would be more impressed, at least most young people would be more amenable to the media contact than the average real voters-and I think they'd be much more successfully appealed to not by negative advertising, but by positive advertising."
Brennan adds that young people tend to vote more idealistically, rather than strategically. They vote for, rather than against a party.
Both Brennan and Smith found it more difficult to explain the high percentage of support for the Conservative Party among youth.
"I'm not sure quite what to make of it," says Brennan. "But it may mean that young people, when push comes to shove, are influenced by the same advertisements that reach out to adult voters-and the young vote is the same as the adult vote, maybe that's all it means. I think a lot of people would have thought that young people would not vote for the Conservatives in the same proportion as older people, in fact it's more of a dead heat."
But Smith thinks the influence may have taken a more indirect route. She points to the fact that people who choose not to vote often blame a lack of knowledge and familiarity with the issues, and says young people may have turned to their most trusted advisers for their take on the election issues.
"The way they find out information is from their most trusted sources. And who are their most trusted sources? It's your parents-high school students and youth might be more inclined to think in terms of their parents."
As for whether the support will carry as students reach voting age, Smith says it's difficult to say. She says unless voter turnout among young people improves, even if the party loyalty holds, it will have little impact on the results.
"There's a real opportunity for progressive-thinking policy makers to get the support from this group, and yet they're missing them," says Smith. "It's hard to know, but it's almost like brand awareness. If you look at connecting with a brand, whether or not that brand is a political party, if you build a relationship with your consumer, who is your voter, and you create that brand awareness, there is some longevity to that."
Brennan is more philosophical about party affiliation and the future makeup of the House of Commons, referring to Mark Twain's theory that "The radical of one century is the conservative of the next. The radical invents the views. When he has worn them out, the conservative adopts them."