New Brunswick

6 excuses people use for not voting — and why they're no good

We hate to break it to political junkies, but voting isn’t exactly cool.

You might think you have a good reason not to vote. You might also be wrong

If you're not interested in politics, Howe said, it's easy to avoid it — there are plenty of other things you can read and watch videos about. (Oliver Morin/AFP/Getty Images)

We hate to break it to political junkies, but voting isn't exactly trendy.

And it hasn't been for the past few decades.

In the last provincial election, only 44.1 percent of registered New Brunswick electors aged 18 to 24 actually voted — more than 20 per cent lower than the overall participation rate of 64.7 percent, and the lowest of any age group.

The disinterest likely runs much deeper than those numbers suggest, said Paul Howe, a political science professor at the University of New Brunswick and author of the 2011 book Citizens Adrift: The Democratic Disengagement of Young Canadians.

Voting isn't exactly trendy, but here's how the government is trying to attract young voters. 1:40

"Among the youngest people, in particular, there is often a low level of registration — only about 50 or 60 percent," said Howe. The real percentage out of the total eligible voters aged 18 to 24 is "probably down in the 20 percent range."

But it's not just teens and twenty-somethings tuning out of formal politics. Since the generation born in the 1960s, Howe said, here's been a "gradual, generational erosion in voting."

Here are six reasons people give for not taking part in the process — and what New Brunswick is doing in 2018 to help change that.

The concept of civic engagement has changed since the days when there were only three TV channels, and most people picked up a newspaper or watched the nightly news.

Voting, once regarded as a civic duty, is now seen by "younger generations … as a choice," Howe said. "In other words, you don't feel like you have to vote."

'If you're not interested, it's very easy for you to avoid it and do other things with your media usage.' - Paul Howe, author and political science professor

In 2018, "the media environment is much more fragmented and driven by the person's own interests," Howe said, which means "if you're not interested, it's very easy for you to avoid it and do other things with your media usage."

Many younger people, Howe said, are also less likely to belong to a political party or get involved in politics in other ways.

We're all obsessed with the internet — which means, theoretically, we could just Google who's running and watch a few videos about what they stand for, or use an even more simple tool like Vote Compass to get an inkling of how our views align with those of the five parties.

Although the information is out there, Howe said, there's actually been a "decline in the level of political knowledge, and political interest" among people in their teens, 20s, and 30s. Many struggle to name their elected officials — or even, in some cases, the premier of their own province.

"There has been an erosion, or slippage, in the level of knowledge and interest that people have about politics," he said.

To fight that in 2018, Elections NB is boosting its efforts to recruit high school students to work at polling stations — and partnering with CIVIX, a non-profit committed to increasing civics education, to hold mock elections at 130 schools across New Brunswick, according to CEO Kim Poffenroth.  

The Student Vote project is a partnership of Elections NB, the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, and CIVIX. Mock elections will be held at 130 schools across New Brunswick, according to CEO Kim Poffenroth. (CIVIX)

Kids in Grades 4 to 12 will be able to "learn about the issues, learn about the candidates, and also get the opportunity to play the roles of the various election workers," she said.

"It's an important introduction to the democratic process."

In every election campaign, Howe said, public interest ebbs and flows depending on "how exciting the election is, or if there's a big issue that gets people worked up."

Unlike, say, in 2009, when then-premier Shawn Graham and Jean Charest announced the proposed sale of NB Power to Hydro-Québec — a deal that fell apart months before the provincial election in September 2010 — in 2018 so far, there has been no big, single issue that's getting people fired up.

The NB Power deal, "got people worked up and clearly led to the Liberals being voted out of office," Howe said. 

"It's not clear that there will be such a hot-button issue in this particular election."

Voting is an individual decision, but your friends and family have a major impact on whether you cast a ballot.

Advertising campaigns about the importance of voting, Howe said, have "maybe a tiny effect on the odd person."  

Far more effective, he said, is a personal nudge — "a friend of a family member who says, 'You really should vote this time,' or 'I'm going to vote right now, why don't you come with me?'

"Those kinds of things can really have significant impact."

A little encouragement from a friend or family member, Howe said, is usually a lot more effective than an advertising campaign in persuading someone to vote for the first time. (Dave Chidley/Canadian Press)

One reason to consider lowering the voting age to 16 — an issue on which a referendum is planned in 2020 — is that younger folks still living at home are more likely to follow their parent's lead.

A younger voting age, he said, would also make it easier to tie in high schools civics classes to real-life elections — and get young people on the list of electors through school registration drives.

"It's not just about having a single civics course that students take in Grade 10 and that's it," Howe said. "It's more about weaving discussion of social and political issues into various aspects of the high school curriculum."

"People that I've discussed this with — friends, people in my age group, peers — most of them are interested in voting and consider it a high priority," said summer student Dayna Muzey, youth outreach coordinator for Elections NB.

The biggest hurdle she's hearing about from university student councils, she said, is "access: where do I vote? How? Especially for first-time voters who may not be on the list of electors."

University of Moncton student Alyssa Levesque places her ballot in the box at an on-campus student voting station. (CBC)

This year, Elections NB is working with university student councils to hire elections ambassadors — students who will distribute materials and remind their peers when and where to vote at 18 New Brunswick campuses.

Elections NB is also "coordinating voting stations and polls on campuses across the province and allowing students to vote directly on campus," Muzey said. "I think that is going to help students vote a lot more easily."

Petitions, boycotts, demonstrations, and other forms of virtual and real-life activism are all forms of political expression that don't involve voting. 

But activists, Howe said, also realize the power of the ballot box. 

"They choose alternative ways to express themselves and the things they care about .. But if you look at survey numbers, you find that most of those people will also vote"

While organizations like Elections NB can't control all the factors that influence people not to vote, they can raise awareness through ad and social media campaigns of how and where to cast a ballot.

"I don't think it will be possible for any New Brunswicker," Poffenroth said, "not to know when and where they can vote."

While New Brunswickers might have strong opinions about the direction in which the province is heading — from the environment, to economic development, to the cost of education — voting is how those ideas get translated into real-world change.

"If you don't vote," Poffenroth said, "you're leaving the decision-making process up to someone else."

About the Author

Julia Wright

Information Morning Saint John host

Julia Wright is a lifelong Saint Johner and the host of Information Morning Saint John. She has been with the CBC since 2016.