Canada Votes 2015: Getting out the youth vote

Despite serious efforts to engage the country's youth in Canada's electoral process, a majority of them still don't bother to vote.

Only 38.8% of 18- to 24-year-olds voted in the 2011 election

Simon Fraser University student Tessica Truong convinces a fellow student to pledge to vote in the 2015 general election. (CBC)

The majority of Canada's youth still don't bother to vote, despite serious efforts to engage them in the electoral process.

Almost three million young Canadians — 2.974 million — under 24 are eligible to vote, but recent polling day turnouts have been poor, despite social media and other campaigns designed to engage them, 

In the 2011 election, only 38.8 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds voted. That was a slight improvement on the 2008 election, where just 37.4 per cent visited the ballot box, but was significantly worse than the 2006 turnout of 43.8 per cent.

In an effort to galvanize students, a campaign named "Storm the Dorm" has been launched at Simon Fraser University's downtown Vancouver campus. The goal is to encourage students to sign a pledge to vote on Oct. 19. 

Fighting a lack of trust

"We did the research on this," SFU student and Storm the Dorm campaigner Tessica Truong told CBC News. "We found that one-on-one interactions are actually the most effective way to get students and people in general to commit to something."

She knows it's a tough sell, countering "the disengagement and lack of trust students have in the political system  … this belief that students have that their vote won't count in this election."

University of British Columbia PhD student David Moscrop has studied the challenges around motivating young people to head to the ballot box.

"I think parties are partially to blame," he says. "They have an interest in getting out to knock on the doors of voters who are likely to vote for them, but they have no interest in getting unlikely voters to do so, so they're unlikely to spend their time on young people."

But Eli Zbar — a student at Thompson Rivers University and a Young Conservative — says that part of the answer to increasing youth turnout  is simply to make voting easier.

"If voting were as easy as tweeting, a lot more people would be voting," he argues. "Because there is sure a lot of people tweeting about politics."

But there's a worrying question for political parties — and Canadian democracy: If people turn away from the ballot box when they're young, will they make the effort to start voting as they get older?

About the Author

Chris Brown

Moscow Correspondent

Chris Brown is a foreign correspondent based in the CBC’s Moscow bureau. Previously a National Reporter in Vancouver, Chris has a passion for great stories and has travelled all over Canada and the world to find them.

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