Sunday June 01, 2014

Who's to blame for low voter turnout among youth: politicians or the young?


Getting out the youth vote: New research says young people aren't voting because politicians don't talk about the issues that concern them. The study suggests politicians and the media should start tuning-in, if they want to engage younger voters.  What do you think?
With guest host Suhana Meharchand.

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There has been growing concern over several decades about the sliding performance of voters in Canada ...and also in other Western democracies. Many wonder what the future holds for democratic systems if fewer and fewer people take part in what some might call the ultimate act ...that of casting a ballot. Well the future doesn't look good because the lowest rates of voter participation are among the youngest voters ...the under 30's. What happens when the young fail to engage in the democratic process? Do they engage later ...or do they simply add to the declining levels of participation for all voters?

We're still more than a year away from the next federal election. Some provinces such as Ontario will be voting before then, not to mention many municipalities this year ....but the wheels of concern keep turning. A new study ...ten years in the making ...has taken a long look at what younger people are interested in when it comes to politics, and the results are surprising. We'll speak with one of the co-authors of that study in a few minutes.

What was surprising was that younger voters were most interested in local topics, closer to their lives such as the cost of food, availability of transit, security, quality of education ....issues that are not really part of federal politics. The larger more abstract topics -- perhaps stereotypes -- such as world peace, hunger and the environment were not top of mind among those under 30s. You might ask then if the votes by young people in provincial and municipal elections are higher if their concerns are there ...but it would seem those rates are in fact lower.

So what's going on? How can a democratic society maintain its integrity by ensuring that its citizens take up their democratic rights and exercise them? Is it up to politicians and the media to make sure all the issues get equal time including the ones of special interest to the young? Is it up to voters to grab hold of their own civic responsibilities and learn about all the issues and cast their own ballots? Is 'not being interested' a good enough excuse? Many of the tough political issues have considerable importance in the lives of all citizens. An issue may be dense and difficult to grasp but nevertheless important, even crucial to full participation in our society. How do we enable our citizens to realize this and give them the tools to engage?

We want to know what you think.

Our question today: "Who's to blame for low voter turnout among youth: politicians or the young?"

We're not really looking for blame here ...the question is simply a way of kickstarting the discussion about where we have to look first to solve this problem.

Is this a problem of shirking of responsibility ...or is it a problem of the system not reflecting the needs of all of the voters? Is a democratic system like a business that offers a product designed to appeal to its customers ...or is it a system built by the participants themselves a customer run cooperative? How can we make sure all citizens are engaged in the democratic process ...and does that start with the young?

I'm Suhana Meharchand ...on CBC Radio One ...and on Sirius XM, satellite radio channel 169 ...this is Cross Country Checkup.


  • Heather Bastedo
    Co-author of study on youth engagement in politics.  Teaches Canadian Politics at Queens University
    Twitter: @hjbastedo

  • Yasmine Hassan
    Columnist and writer for the Prince Arthur Herald, associate features editor at The Islamic Monthly.
    Twitter: @seemzhassan

  • Tanya Kappo
    Law school graduate who organized Idle No More "teach ins" and grassroots protests in Alberta. And one-timne Liberal candidate. From the Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation.

  • Anthony Wilson-Smith
    President Historica-Canada
    Twitter: @awilsonsmith



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