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Federal Voter Turnout in First Nations Reserves (2004–2011) (Research Note)

On-reserve vs. National Turnout Rates

Since 2004, voter turnout5 among the Canadian population has remained relatively stable, fluctuating within 3.3 points around an average of 61.4 percent. In contrast, the average turnout rate observed on First Nations reserves is 44.0 percent, which corresponds to a difference of 17.4 percentage points when compared to the national average. From one election to another, the gap is highest in 2004, at 20.5 points, and flatlines at around 16 points from 2006 to 2011.

As can be seen in Figure 1, the turnout trend on reserve closely follows the national trend. The similarities suggest that on-reserve electors are affected in a similar way by the same contextual factors, specific to each election. This assumption is generally supported by Fournier and Loewen (2011)6 who, analyzing post-election survey data from 2004 to 2011, concluded that turnout among Aboriginal Canadians is driven by the same factors as in the general population. Also of note, the gap of 16 to 21 percent observed between the national turnout rates and on-reserve turnout rates is consistent with the 20-point gap found in surveys (although surveys include off-reserve and urban Aboriginal populations and not only on-reserve populations).

Figure 1: Voter Turnout—On-reserve vs. National (2004–2011)

Voter Turnout—On-reserve vs. National (2004–2011)

Text version

Note: Turnout calculated using the number of electors on the final lists of electors as the denominator.


5 Turnout is calculated using the number of electors on the final lists of electors as the denominator. This approach is used to ensure consistency and comparability over time.

6 Fournier, Patrick, and Peter John Loewen. 2011. Aboriginal Electoral Participation in Canada. Ottawa: Elections Canada.