Less Educated Youth

Less Educated Youth

Between August and October 2011, Samara spoke to disengaged Canadians across the country in a series of focus groups. The complete findings from this study are published in Samara’s report, The Real Outsiders: Politically Disengaged Views on Politics and Democracy. These briefs are designed to augment The Real Outsiders, by providing greater detail and insight about the conversations in each focus group.

English Speaking Women in Quebec | Lower Income Canadians | Urban Aboriginal Peoples | Francophone Women in Quebec | New Canadians | Less Educated Youth | Rural Canadians

The Voiceless

Focus Group Profile: In Hamilton, Ontario, Samara sat down with eight youth aged 19 to 22 years, with a median age of 20.5 years. These young people also had lower levels of education – a decision by Samara’s researchers since most youth engagement studies have involved youth with university education. For this group, most participants had only completed high school, with the exception of one who did not complete high school and one who had obtained some university education.

After high school, most youth are trying to make their own way, further developing their independence and self-reliance. Yet with only a high school diploma under one’s belt (and sometimes not at all), it can be a challenging undertaking. It was no different for the young people in this focus group. Several were working two jobs; others had shift work at a local steel plant; and one was part of an aspiring rock band.

Like many of their peers, this group had a very dim view of political affairs and government.  However, where most other focus groups directed their frustration to specific political outcomes – gas prices, taxes, or tuition costs, for instance, this group was more focused on the belief that government did not care, was not to be trusted and stood in opposition to the things they valued. 

In response to images from the G20 protest, one young man noted:

It just shows you right there that they don’t actually really care about you – what about all those people that were illegally detained and what about the girls who were strip searched by Toronto police by male officers; where is their voice?  They don’t get heard, and why?  That is the time when their voices are supposed to be heard the most and so that’s why that speaks to me the loudest.

This was not apathy, but can be more accurately described as a sense of estrangement from political leaders and government, underlining a sense of powerlessness.

Younger individuals also perceive corporations within the same camp as government, and feel that corporations will exert their position in order to “make a buck just for the sake of doing it…they don’t actually care about you.” Their responses reflect an overarching “us versus them” attitude toward a political establishment - more oppositional in tone than in other groups of disengaged people.

In contrast to their impressions of politics, young participants also shared the belief that “I do care that I live in a democracy.” They felt positive about democratic ideals like freedom of expression. Yet, for some participants, their perceived role in democracy extends only as far as the obligation to vote. Others held a more community oriented perspective. For example, one woman saw her primary democratic responsibility as being considerate in her actions since “what I do as a person affects everybody else in my community.” It appears as though less engaged youth value what democracy has afforded them to some degree, but question their ability to be heard or effect change in a system that left them voiceless: “When I think of democracy, I think of equalness [sic] and every voice is heard… but that’s not in our society.”

When asked to consider what would make them “care more” about democracy, a common theme was that issues should be made to be “more interesting.” Asked to elaborate, young people said they would be more willing to participate if they were presented with issues of interest and relevance to them, otherwise, “none of us give a crap about anything they’re doing”.  Participants, similar to many other focus groups, also expressed a desire for government to “actually [do] what they said they were going to do.” Until something changes, however, young people will most likely continue to perceive political affairs as “all fear, brainwashing”.  Despite feeling strongly that “we have a right to know what’s going on,” they remain dubious as to their power to affect change. Many, as a result, never really engaged with politics to begin with.