CBC News Federal Election

Student Vote 2004

Reaching out to youth: A tough target audience.

Amanda Taccone
Amanda Taccone  

By Amanda Taccone
Student Vote 2004 Youthbeat

This election's batch of federal leaders doesn't seem to be speaking to youth, despite the intense media coverage on the lack of young Canadians casting their votes.

Is it the medium or is it the message? The answer seems to be both, and while many would agree that Canada's political leaders don't make capturing the youth vote a priority, it may also be true that youth are no longer willing to listen to leaders they have little respect for.

Mike Farrell is a partner at Youthography, a youth marketing consultancy. "[Young people] really do feel a great disconnect with the leaders, " he says. "They feel that [the leaders] are corrupt, like they don't get them, and that they're just like stars that they don't understand."

A recent poll of 1,130 Canadians ages 18-29 conducted by Youthography, asked the question "Which of the major party nominees do you feel you can trust the most?" And while Paul Martin came out on top of the four mainstream political leaders with 21.1%, a whopping 56.9% of those surveyed chose "none of the above."

Regaining their attention and their trust is a difficult task. Scott Henderson is a professor of communications, pop culture and film at Brock University. He says that politicians trying to appear young and hip may be doing themselves more harm than good.

"Youth know when their culture is being ripped off. They've seen it happen so often, so many times, when people appropriate street slang or styles, and they know when they see it and they know when something's past its prime...there's a healthy cynicism out there among youth about what adult culture will do to youth style."

While Farrell agrees, he thinks that today's leaders should at least try to reach out. "So, any efforts these leaders can [make] to shed that clothing, the vestments of privilege and power and condescension...and make them more human is definitely going to resonate better with young adults." He adds that it's a question of finding the right opportunity, like Bill Clinton with his saxophone on late night television.

Both Farrell and Henderson agree that talking about the issues that are important to youth, and the concerns in their lives right now, is key.

According to Farrell "[The leaders] need to talk to their issues, and the top issue for anybody that's 18-24 right now is education, something that's a 'duh' to most of us, because a large share of them are students or their friends are students...that's one area we're not seeing much movement at all."

Henderson adds that young people need to know how government policy directly affects them. "The day to day level of politics and the sense that social behaviour and cultural activity is political, never or rarely gets communicated. Politics is seen as something out there, not affecting the day to day, whereas I think it does affect it, it's just never presented that way."

He says that the way politicians communicate has to be current as well. "I would say we live in a world of immediacy, a world of online communication, MSN Messenging, and youth are tied to that immediate world," Henderson says. "Media is changing, things have become much more online, and I think politicians are still tied largely to the wrong types of media. We have all these buses chasing them around for the nightly news, but that's not where youth are looking."

When asked if any of the party leaders are on the right track, both Henderson and Farrell say it's too early to tell, but that those parties whose issues are more in tune with youth concerns, are more likely to connect with young voters.

Farrell says "Traditionally that's the NDP and Green Party, because they've actually aligned themselves with environmental issues, social issues that are close to home, close to the street, and fairly urban issues, that type of thing."

Unfortunately the trend towards youth staying away at the polls means it's unlikely that the party leaders will put much effort into wooing young people, leading to a vicious circle. Henderson compares it to trying to increase your market share, "The youth vote doesn't seem to grow, and there seems to be growing cynicism, which is definitely problematic and definitely needs addressing, but if I was a politician running for office now with an election coming in less than a month's time...do I keep trying to woo voters who aren't likely to vote or do I just aim at those who are going to vote, which is the older demographic?"

Let us know what you think about the party leaders' attempts to reach out. Send an e-mail to amanda_taccone@cbc.ca.

Past Columns


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Canada's Young Voters

SpinOff  Meet the youngest candidates in this election. more »

The Great Canadian Job Interview  The Great Canadian Job Interview. more »

National Results Summary  National Results Summary more »

External Links

  • Student Vote 2004

  • Apathy is Boring

  • Rush the Vote

  • Vote out Loud

  • Elections Canada Online

  • Think Education
  • Anti Apathy
  • Young women vote

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