The Youth Vote in the 2015 Election

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Political News Tuesday, December 15, 2015 View Count = 3149

The Youth Vote in the 2015 Election

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The Youth Vote in the 2015 Election” is written by Allison Harell and Tania Gosselin from the Université du Québec à
Montréal. 

Within just 96 hours of October's federal election, Allison Harell, Tania Gosselin and 64 other leading thinkers and political scientists in Canada each wrote a short, snappy analysis of the election. Never before have Canadian experts collaborated to produce such a complete—and fast—response to an election. Together with UBC Press, Samara is proud to bring you all 57 articles as part of the "Election 2015" blog series, the definitive look at all angles of the 42nd general election.  

Watch this space to get all the analyses. For a complete list of academics involved, click here

Young people in Canada have been notoriously absent from the ballot box in recent Canadian elections. Falling overall turnout in Canada has largely been attributed to the failure of younger generations to participate in elections. One of the primary factors behind this is young people’s lack of interest and knowledge about electoral politics. Unlike past elections, there is reason to believe that the 2015 Canadian federal election garnered more interest and excitement among young people.

Overall turnout suggests that this election was far more likely to mobilize voters than recent past elections have. Elections Canada initially reported that 68.5% of eligible voters participated in this election, up from 58% and 61% in the previous two elections.

While numbers specific to youth are not yet available, uncertainty about the outcome likely drew their interest. People tend to vote more often when elections are competitive, and this election was particularly exciting on that front. The election began with a tight three-way race. This gives voters the impression that their vote is more likely to matter, which can be particularly important for those who have not yet established a long-term pattern of voting.

If we consider the major political parties’ platforms (see the table below), the parties varied in the amount and tone of their focus on youth. The Liberals and the NDP had 66 and 61 mentions respectively. In the Liberal platform, mentions of youth are frequently linked to job training and opportunities, as well as to enhancing engagement in public life. Other key messages directed towards the young, refer to increasing student grants, as well as allowing the repayment of student loans only once a minimum yearly income of $25,000 is attained. 

The NDP program also emphasizes job opportunities, adding that it would ensure fairer treatment of young workers, notably though access to employment insurance and better protection by modifying the Labour Code. The Green Party featured overall the smallest number of mentions about young people.

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Given its relative length (almost twice as many pages as the Liberal platform) and its relatively low number of mentions (49), the Conservative campaign manifesto was arguably the least youth-oriented. Among the nine mentions of young Canadians, three related to young people who join street gangs or terrorist organizations. Similarly, out of 18 mentions of youth, 10 related to gangs or radicalization. “Student(s)” appeared 22 times, often in connection with indirect support measures such as increases for the Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP) and tax credits for scholarships.

The difference in party platforms parallels the tendency of young people to prefer centre and left-leaning parties. This likely benefited the Liberals in an election in which, reports suggest, it ran a particularly effective ground campaign. The Liberal Party also attracted young people because of the relative youth of its leader, combined with its message of change. Polling data suggests that Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party “brand” were both most appreciated by those under 30. 

In contrast, the Conservative Party’s “Just Not Ready” criticism of Trudeau called into question his relative youth. This had the dual effect of associating him with young voters while potentially turning these same voters away from the Conservatives. The tendency of youth to shy away from right-wing parties means that this election more generally, combined with the CPC’s failure to speak much to this constituency, made the often-heard expression of “ABC: Anything But Conservative”—particularly salient among youth. 

The mobilization effort by parties may have been helped as well by new efforts by Elections Canada to reach young voters. In particular, Elections Canada ran a unique pilot project that set up 72 temporary returning offices where people could vote by special ballot ahead of election day. Primarily, these were placed on 39 university campuses. Over 70,000, primarily young, voters took advantage of these temporary polling stations. 

In the end, the 2015 Canadian federal election provided good conditions for increasing turnout among young electors: a competitive election that included mobilization efforts aimed at youth and a centrist party led by a young leader with a message of change. 

Allison Harell is an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM). Harell is a collaborator on the Canadian Election Study and co-investigator of the Canadian Youth Study. She is co-founder and co-director of the Laboratoire de communication politique et d’opinion publique. She recently authored, with Stuart Soroka and Kiera Ladner, Public Opinion, Prejudice and the Racialization of Welfare in Canada,” Ethnic and Racial Studies 37, no. 14 (2014). 

Tania Gosselin is an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM). Gosselin is co-founder and co-director of the Laboratoire de communication politique et d’opinion publique (LACPOP) at UQAM. She is a co-investigator of the European Media Systems Survey and the author of « Le soutien à l’intégration européenne dans les nouveaux États membres, » Politique européenne 38, no. 3 (2012), where she was also guest editor of this special issue.

You can also find this article in the e-book Canadian Election Analysis 2015: Communication, Strategy, and Democracy, which is available for download on UBC Press's website

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