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.