New Brunswick

N.B. voter turnout lowest since 1978

New Brunswick voters made history on Monday by dumping the first one-term government since Confederation but voter turnout was much lower than expected.

New Brunswick voters made history on Monday by dumping the province's first one-term government since Confederation but the early estimates of increased voter turnout were aided by a drop in registered voters.

Elections New Brunswick reported that 71.5 per cent of eligible voters turned out on Monday to cast a ballot in the election that saw David Alward's Progressive Conservatives rack up 42 seats compared to Shawn Graham's 13 Liberals.

N.B. voter turnout since 1967 
Election Ballots cast  Percentage 
2010 372,502 71.51
2006 377,247 67.5
2003 386,657 68.6
1999 397,179 75.5
1995 393,250 74.8
1991 414,728 80.1
1987 411,136 81.9
1982 387,251 82
1978 333,761 75.6
1974 312,583 76.5
1970 259,306 81.2
1967 257,671 82.1

At 71.5 per cent, that would be the highest voter turnout since 1999, ending a two-campaign streak of declining voter numbers.

But the higher voter turnout can be credited to fewer people on the province's list of registered voters.

There were 520,872 people on the voting list and 372,502 ended up casting a ballot on Sept. 27.

Four years ago, 558,688 people — almost 40,000 more than in 2010 — were on the voting list and 377,244 ballots were cast, leading to a 67.5 per cent voter turnout.

So even though a smaller percentage of eligible voters cast ballots in 2006 than in 2010, there were more votes cast in the 2006 campaign that elected Graham's Liberals.

The number of votes cast in 2010 was actually the lowest in New Brunswick since the 1978 election when 333,761 ballots were put into boxes.

Progressive Conservative Carl Killen knows the value of a vote as he won the Saint John Harbour riding by just nine votes on election night over Liberal Ed Doherty, who served in Graham's cabinet.

But turnout in his riding was again the lowest in the province, with only 52 per cent of eligible voters casting ballots and 167 fewer votes than in 2006.

Killen said disillusionment with politics is rampant, especially in his Saint John riding.

"There are a great many who believe that politicians do not work for people," Killen sand.

"It's always a challenge."

Voting decline

And even though Elections New Brunswick put a major focus on attracting young people to the polls, the participation rate was especially low among people under the age of 35.

Paul Howe, a political science professor at the University of New Brunswick, said the steady drop in voter turnout is a long-term trend that must be dealt with.

"My hope was to see voter turnout increase like a lot of people hoped to see," Howe said.

His research has shown voting to be particularly weak among New Brunswick young people, with those under 35 voting half as much as those who are older than 65.

The trend forces politicians to cater to seniors more in campaigns as Alward's Tories did with several spending promises aimed at seniors. For instance, the Tories have promised to freeze property tax assessments for people older than 65.

Howe said catering to those who vote further alienates those who don't.

"The politicians are going to pay attention to the interests of those who actually vote," Howe said.

Howe said this trend encourages the decline in voter turnout, which showed itself again on Monday night.