Will seniors 'make the difference' at the polls on election day?
Older voters have sway at the polls because they tend to show up and vote
Seniors. They're an increasingly big group and they tend to show up on election day.
They're the group of people aged 65 and older, who now account for nearly one in six members of the population, according to Statistics Canada.
In Windsor, Ont., this group comprises one in five residents. That means local seniors loom even larger at the ballot box, as they make up nearly a quarter of the city's voting-age population.
John Meyer, the chair of the local CARP chapter in Windsor-Essex, said federal parties are well aware of the heft this group has at the polls.
"The vote is very strong from the senior population," Meyer told CBC News in a recent telephone interview.
Case in point, the estimated general turnout in the last federal election was slightly more than 61 per cent. But three in four voters who were between the ages of 65 and 74 made their way to the polls in 2011. This was the highest rate of participation among seven demographic subgroups that Elections Canada analyzed last election.
A long-term trend
Peter Loewen, an associate professor of political science at the University of Toronto, said this same trend has been apparent for decades.
"As a general, empirical regularity, people who are over 65 are voting at a greater rate than people who are under 65," Loewen told CBC News in a telephone interview.
That reliable presence at the polls makes parties pay attention to their concerns, given the weight seniors carry as a group of voters.
Loewen said the federal parties and their leaders are clearly targeting these older voters, though they present their message in a way so that their intentions do not appear so explicit to voters.
"'You never see politicians say: 'We're bringing in this policy because it gives seniors more than it gives people who are non-seniors,'" he said. "What they'll say is to help seniors, we've brought in this policy."
'Seniors are one group'
Third-party groups are also eyeing the potential that seniors have at the polls.
While in the Windsor area last week, Unifor National President Jerry Dias said that the federal Conservatives have greatly benefited from the votes seniors have provided to them.
For that reason, he said they will be a key factor in deciding that party's future in government.
"Seniors can make the difference in the next election," the labour leader said Wednesday, as he called on union members to engage with elder voters in the weeks ahead.
Loewen said while it's true that seniors could help swing a vote in a particular direction, the same is true for other groups in the population.
"To be sure, there are lots of different people in our system who could sway the election," he said. "Seniors are one group and young people are another group and the middle class are another group."
To Dias's point, Loewen agreed that a greater proportion of seniors tend to support the Conservatives. And if competing parties could steal some of that support, that could help them on election day.
"If the NDP and Liberals can chip away at that, they can increase their odds at forming government," he said.
What do seniors want?
Meyer said he's not sure that seniors' issues have been making it to the doorsteps of homes in Windsor so far, as he's yet to see a candidate appear at his own door.
But he believed some of these issues are getting attention during the current campaign.
Meyer lists health care, finances and changes to postal service as three of the biggest issues for seniors right now.
That squares with what several local candidates told CBC News they have been hearing while they have been campaigning in the Windsor area.
Out in Essex County, Liberal candidate Audrey Festeryga said that from her experience, seniors are highly concerned about health care and pensions.
"They are concerned because they are aging," she said, noting that with efforts to bring seniors into the region, billed as a retirement destination, their issues are thus becoming more broadly important.
Tracey Ramsey, who is running for the New Democrats in the same riding, agreed that health care "is very important to people in the region," particularly with the number of older residents.
Conservative candidate Jeff Watson, who is the incumbent in the riding of Essex, said he's been hearing a lot from seniors about the state of the economy and what it means for them and their extended families.
But Watson said he did not believe health care was among the top issues that seniors have been raising with him on their doorsteps.