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The Real Outsiders

interactions with the political system. This finding is a far cry from conventional wisdom that holds that the disengaged simply do not care or that they lack knowledge.

Some became outsiders after seeking assistance from elected representatives and civil servants in government, but ultimately receiving little help. Others, especially younger Canadians, came to understand very early on that the political system disregards their concerns. Despite these two different pathways to outsider status, there is a common destination: the disengaged have learned from personal experience that engagement is futile.

Overall, our research shows that declining political engagement is, at least in part, due to concrete experiences with politics. Indeed, participants’ answers belie the notion that the Canadian public is not knowledgeable or sophisticated enough to understand how their political system works. Rather, the people we spoke to are keenly aware of the forces that affect politics.

Our evidence shows that the political system, including the bureaucracy that supports it, has failed many Canadians in clear and tangible ways. However, there is also a silver lining to this story: if people are disengaged from politics for specific and concrete reasons, there may also be specific and concrete ways through which to re-engage the Canadian public in politics. Participants told us that they are not asking for much. They simply need to feel that those in power will consider their voices, and that politics can become relevant to their everyday concerns. Thus, the troubling trend of declining political participation may be reversible. But only by understanding the concerns of the disengaged can we begin the process of proposing solutions.