Turned off? Tuned out? Dropped out?
Evidence indicates that many Canadians are not interested in politics. In the last federal election, four out of ten Canadians chose not to vote. In several of the recent provincial elections, almost half of the eligible voters stayed home. More people chose not to vote than voted for any one party.
Not only is voter turnout decreasing, but every year fewer Canadians are getting involved in other kinds of political activities, like joining or donating to political parties, signing petitions or attending protests. If nothing is done to reverse this disturbing trend, those in power will no longer hear the voices of the majority of Canadians.
This raises a straightforward, but important question: Why are people disengaging from politics? Many assume that disengaged people are simply apathetic, disinterested, or generally ignorant about politics. Thus, initiatives to improve citizen engagement often assume that the disengaged are lacking in some key attribute of citizenship and that the solution must lie in creating the ideal citizen.
Perhaps not surprisingly, then, political parties and institutions rarely make efforts to
speak to the disengaged, seeing these efforts as a waste of time. But this state of affairs limits our understanding of how people interact with the political system. Indeed, previous research has shown that despite low levels of political engagement, Canadians are quite supportive of democratic values and are well aware of what democracy should look and feel like. There are, in fact, many who may not be as apathetic, disinterested or uninformed as is commonly thought. By talking to these politically disengaged people, we can gain vital insight into our political system, which can assist in reversing the trend of political disengagement in Canada.
Between August and October of 2011, Samara, a research organization that studies and encourages citizen engagement with Canada’s democracy, did just that. We spoke to Canadians across the country in a series of focus groups