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Survey of Electors Following the 41st General Election

Voting in the General Election

This section explores issues related to voting in the 2011 federal election.

Large Majority Reported Having Voted

In total, 84% of all respondents reported having voted in the 2011 election.Footnote 11 When interpreting these results, it is important to keep in mind that 1) non-voters are more likely to refuse answering surveys about elections, and 2) the social desirability factor likely leads to over-reporting of voting behaviour. Official turnout in the 2011 general election was 61%.Footnote 12Voted in Election graph
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Aboriginals (67%) and youth (69%) were both less likely than other electors (84%) to report having voted. The likelihood of reporting having voted in the 2011 election did not differ significantly between Aboriginal electors living on a reserve and those living off a reserve (65% and 69% respectively).

Sociodemographic differences

The likelihood of reporting having voted in the 2011 federal election was highest amongst:

  • Electors who stay at home full-time (89% vs. 77‑83% of others).
  • Electors with more than high school education (85‑89% vs. 78% with high school or less).
  • Electors with household incomes of at least $40,000 (85‑90% vs. 79% of those with household incomes of less than $40,000).
  • Electors who are interested in politics (90% vs. 62% who are not interested).
  • Electors who followed the campaign closely (92% vs. 63% who did not).
  • Electors who recalled receiving a Voter Information Card (88% vs. 65% who did not recall the card).

There was a positive relationship between age and the likelihood of voting. Sixty-nine percent of electors under 25 reported having voted compared with 79% aged 25‑44, 90% aged 45‑64, and 93% aged 65 and over.

These results reflect an increase in reported voter turnout since the 2008 general election (73%), and are not as high as those in 2006 (87%).

Sixty-nine percent of youth electors said they voted in the 2011 federal election in 2011, an increase from the 63% who reported doing so for the 2008 general election and comparable to 70% in 2006.

Two thirds (67%) of Aboriginal electors said they voted, which is an increase over the federal elections of both 2006 (64%) and 2008 (54%).

Voted in Election (Over Time) graph
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Voter Assiduousness

New in 2011, the survey asked respondents whether they had voted in the previous federal general election held in 2008, as well as the last provincial and municipal elections (or band election for Aboriginal respondents living on reserve).

A substantial majority (87%) reported that they voted in the 2008 federal general election, while 11% said they did not. Once again, when interpreting these results it is important to keep in mind that social desirability can lead to over-reporting of voting behaviour. Official turnout in the 2008 federal election was 59%.

Aboriginals and youth were less likely than the general population to report having voted in the 2008 federal election. Nearly a quarter (73%) of Aboriginals did so, while only 62% of youth said they voted.

Voted in Last Election graph
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Sociodemographic differences

The likelihood of reporting to have voted in the previous federal election was highest amongst:

  • Electors who stay at home full-time (91%), followed by those who are employed (86% vs. 77‑80% of others).
  • Electors with university degrees (91% vs. 83‑87% of those less educated).
  • Electors who are interested in politics (91% vs. 70% of those not interested).
  • Electors who followed the campaign closely (92% vs. 72% who did not).
  • Those who reported voting in the 2011 federal election (92% vs. 55% who said they did not vote).

There was a positive relationship between age and the likelihood of reporting having voted in the previous federal election. Sixty-two percent of electors under 25 reported having done so, compared with 83% of those aged 25‑44, 92% of those 45‑64, and 96% of those 65 and over.

In total, 79% of all survey respondents said they had voted in the last provincial election that took place in their province. Only 17% said they did not vote, while 1% said they were not eligible to vote and 2% either did not know or declined to respond. The likelihood of voting in the last provincial election was much lower among youth (40%) and Aboriginal electors (64%) than the general population (79%).

Sociodemographic differences

The likelihood of reporting having voted in the last provincial election was higher amongst:

  • Electors who stay at home full-time (87% vs. 52‑78% of others).
  • Electors with university degrees (86% vs. 70‑79% of others).
  • Electors with less than $40,000 in household income (77% vs. 80‑83% of those with larger household incomes).
  • Francophones (88% vs. 77% of Anglophones).
  • Aboriginals living off a reserve (69% vs. 58% living on a reserve).
  • Electors who are interested in politics (84% vs. 62% who are not interested).
  • Electors who followed the campaign closely (85% vs. 63% who did not).
  • Those who said they voted in the 2011 federal election (86% vs. 43% who said they did not vote).

The likelihood of having voted in the last provincial election is positively related to age. Forty percent of electors under 25 said they voted in the last provincial election compared with 77% of those aged 25‑44, 88% of those aged 45‑64, and 94% of those 65 and over.

There are clear relationships between the likelihood of having voted in the May 2011 federal election and having voted in other elections, including the previous federal election in 2008, the last provincial election, and the last municipal election. A majority of electors (57%) reported having voted in all four of these elections. Regarding occasional voters, 29% reported voting in some elections but not others, and 35% reported not voting in some elections but not others.Footnote 13 Only 4% could be qualified as recurrent non-voters in that they explicitly stated they did not vote in any of the elections.Footnote 14

Of the other elections considered, reporting having voted in the 2011 general election is most strongly correlated with having voted in the 2008 general election (Correlation Coefficient=0.383), followed by the last provincial election (Correlation Coefficient =0.357), and finally the last municipal election (Correlation Coefficient =0.339). In other words, the likelihood of voting in both federal elections is stronger than the likelihood of having voted in both the 2011 general election and the last provincial election, which in turn is stronger than the likelihood of having voted in the 2011 federal election and the last municipal election.

Amongst Aboriginals, the likelihood of reporting having voted in the 2011 federal election was much higher amongst those who voted in their last band election than amongst those who did not (62% vs. 29%).

Sociodemographic differences

The likelihood of having voted in the 2011 election was higher amongst:

  • Aboriginals who voted in their last band election (62% vs. 29% who did not).
  • Electors who voted in their last municipal election (93% vs. 66% who did not).
  • Electors who voted in their last provincial election (91% vs. 53% who did not).
  • Electors who voted in the 2008 federal election (91% vs. 49% who did not).

Everyday Life Issues Main Reasons for Not Voting

Respondents who said they did not vote in the federal election (n=512) were asked to identify the main reason why they did not vote. The graph below groups these reasons into three main categories. As can be seen, non-voters were most likely to point to everyday life issues (60%) to explain why they did not vote. Half as many (30%) identified political issues, while only 6% cited issues related to the electoral process itself. Few (2%) identified issues that do not fit in any of the three categories.

Summary of Main Reason for Not Voting graph
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Youth were roughly comparable to the general population in terms of their main reasons for not voting. Aboriginals, however, differed in that they were somewhat less likely to cite everyday life issues (55% vs. 60% of general population) and modestly more likely to say they did not vote due to political reasons (36% vs. 30%).

Issues included in the everyday lifeFootnote 15 category are travelling (17%), work/school schedule (13%), being too busy (10%), lack of information (7%), health/illness/injury (7%), family obligations (3%), forgetting (2%), and transportation-related reasons (1%).

Issues in the political issues category include lack of interest/apathy (9%), perceived meaninglessness of the vote (5%), cynicism, candidate-related issues, and issues related to politicians in general (3% each), issues related to political parties, government-related issues, and simply not wanting to vote (2% each), and campaign-related issues (1%). Fewer than 1% identified lack of competition, turning their attention elsewhere, and issues related to party leaders.

Electoral process issues include registration problems (3%), lack of information on the voting process (1%), lack of identification (1%), and the polling station being too far away (1%).

Issues included in the 'other' category are religious beliefs and personal reasons.

Sociodemographic differences

The following subgroup differences were evident:

  • Electors aged 45‑64 were the least likely to cite everyday life issues as the main reason why they did not vote (45% vs. 61‑67% of others). Conversely, they were the most likely to cite political issues (46% vs. 25‑28% of others).
  • Men were less likely than women to say they did not vote due to everyday life issues (53% vs. 67%), but more likely to say they did not vote due to political issues (37% vs. 23%).
  • Francophones were more likely than Anglophones to cite political reasons for not voting (41% vs. 28%).
  • Those who are not interested in politics were more likely than those who are interested to say they did not vote due to political issues (38% vs. 24%).

Compared to the 2008 general election, there is a slight increase in citing everyday life issues as the main reason for not voting (56% in 2008 vs. 60% in 2011). The other two categories of reasons have seen small decreases.

Summary of Main Reason for Not Voting (Over Time) graph
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Similar to the general population, Aboriginals and youth increasingly cited everyday life issues as the main reason they did not vote. Conversely, they mentioned electoral process issues less often, while political issues altered in prominence only slightly.

Main Reason for Not Voting Amongst Aboriginals and Youth (Over Time) graph
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Majority of Non-Voters Said They Would Have Voted Online if Possible

A majority of respondents who said they did not vote in the federal election (57%) said they would have voted had it been possible to do so over the Internet using the Elections Canada Web site. An additional 9% said they might have voted had this option been available, while one-third (32%) said they would not have voted.

Likelihood of Voting Online at EC Web Site graph
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Youth were more likely than the general population to say that they would have voted had it been possible to do so online (67% vs. 57%). Aboriginals were more comparable to the general population in this regard (54% vs. 57%).

Sociodemographic differences

Among non-voters, the likelihood of voting had it been possible to do so online was highest for:

  • Electors born outside Canada (71% vs. 54% of those born within Canada).
  • Students (74%), followed by those who are employed (60% vs. 43‑45% of others).
  • Electors with household incomes between $40,000 and $60,000 (70% vs. 48‑62% of others).
  • Anglophones (61% vs. 38% of Francophones).
  • Women (64% vs. 50% of men).
  • Those who are interested in politics (67% vs. 44% who are not interested).
  • Those who say they followed the campaign closely (68% vs. 49% who did not).

There is a positive relationship between education and the likelihood of voting online had it been possible to do so. Half of non-voters with high school education or less said they would have voted online if possible, compared with 53% of those with community college education, 65% of those with some university education, and 71% of those who have completed university.

Suggestions to Encourage Non-Voters to Vote

Respondents who reported not voting in the election (n=512) were also asked to identify what, if anything, could be done to encourage them to vote in the next federal election. In response, over one-third (36%) said that nothing could be done to encourage them to vote, with a further 5% saying they did not know what could be done. In total, therefore, 41% did not offer any suggestions.

Suggestions to Encourage Non-Voters to Vote graph
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Youth were the likeliest group not to offer substantive suggestions, with 43% saying nothing could be done, and 9% saying they didn't know what could be done. The majority of youth (52%), therefore, did not offer any suggestions (vs. 41% of the general population).

Aboriginals were also somewhat more likely than the general population to not offer suggestions, with 39% saying nothing could be done and 9% saying they did not know, translating into 48% not offering suggestions.

Those who did offer substantive feedback were most likely to identify political issues (24%) and issues related to the electoral process (21%). More specifically, suggestions included:

Some (8%) said that they usually vote and plan to do so the next time, while a few (3%) said that they would vote if they had more time. Suggestions included in the 'other' category are making voting mandatory and providing a cash incentive to vote.

Civic-Mindedness, Sense of Responsibility Main Reason for Voting

Respondents who said they voted in the federal election (n=2,957) were asked to identify the main reasons why they voted. The reasons can be grouped into two main categories. As can be seen, voters were most likely to point to non-political reasons (74%) to explain why they voted, compared with political ones (24%).

Issues in the non-political category include the duty to vote (41%), the habit of voting (8%), the right to vote (8%), wanting to have one voice heard or one's vote count (6%), the belief that if one doesn't vote one shouldn't complain (2%), wanting to participate in the democratic process (2%), wanting to vote (2%), the view that it is a privilege to vote (1%), the view that voting is part of being Canadian (1%), and setting an example for children or others (1%).

Partisan/political issues include supporting a particular party (10%), wanting a change in government (5%), opposing a particular party (4%), supporting a particular candidate (3%), opposing a particular candidate (1%), and voting on a particular issue (1%).

Main Reason for Voting graph
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Youth were twice as likely as older voters to say they voted because they wanted to have their voice heard or counted (12% vs. 6%).

Aboriginals were less likely than the rest of the population to vote out of a sense of duty (31% vs. 41%) or because they feel it is their right (2% vs. 8%). They were more likely to vote in order to support a particular party (16% vs. 10%) or because they wanted a change in government (10% vs. 5%).

Sociodemographic differences

The likelihood of having voted principally out of a sense of duty was highest amongst:

  • Students (51% vs. 36‑42% of others).
  • Electors with university degrees (47% vs. 37‑41% of those less educated).
  • Francophones (58% vs. 36% of Anglophones).
  • Those who did not follow the election closely (47% vs. 40% who did).

The likelihood of voting to support a particular party was highest amongst Anglophones (11% vs. 5% of Francophones). Anglophones were also more likely than Francophones to say they voted out of habit (9% vs. 4%).


Footnote 11 Respondents who did not answer the question on voting were coded as non-voters.

Footnote 12 For the past two general elections, self-declared turnout rates have been 87% in 2006 and 73% in 2008, respectively 22 and 14 points above the official turnout rates. The difference of 23 points observed in 2011 is not exceptional.

Footnote 13 These results should be interpreted with caution. Analysis of intermittent voting behaviours is problematic to the extent that the reasons for abstention, apart from the 2011 general election, are unknown. There is a possibility that respondents, especially youth entering the electorate, report not voting in some elections simply because they were not eligible to vote at the time. Tagging them as occasional voters would not reflect reality.

Footnote 14 The proportion is 15% of those who did not explicitly state that they did vote in any of these elections. However, given the possibility for respondents at some questions to indicate other answer categories, including being ineligible, not being able to recall, or declining to answer, interpreting the proportion who explicitly stated that they did not vote may serve as a better indicator of assiduous non-voting.

Footnote 15 The numbers in this breakdown of responses for the various categories may not sum to the totals in the previous graph for each category for the following reasons: rounding, the inclusion of numerous issues identified by small numbers, and because if a respondent identified more than one issue within a category (e.g. everyday issues), they are only counted once when the aggregate results are presented.