Elections Canada has a legislated mandate to conduct voter education and information programs (Canada Elections Act, section 18(1)), particularly for those persons and groups most likely to experience difficulties in exercising their democratic rights.
Youth voter participation has been declining for many years and is a main contributor to the overall decline in turnout in Canada.
The National Youth Survey was conducted to better understand the reasons why youth may or may not participate in the electoral process.
This information will help Elections Canada to target and tailor its outreach activities and educational initiatives.
The survey took place following the May 2011 federal general election, and included a national random sample of 1,372 youth and young adults aged 18 to 34 years. It also included a non-random sample of 1,293 youth from the following subgroups: Aboriginal youth, ethnocultural youth, youth in rural areas, youth with disabilities and unemployed youth not in school.
The study provides a unique portrait of youth voting behaviour in Canada.
Summary of Findings
Reasons for voting and not voting
The most commonly cited reasons for voting related to its importance – as a civic duty or as an expression of opinions and views.
The most commonly cited reasons for not voting related to personal circumstances – being too busy with work, school or family, or travelling at the time – and insufficient knowledge about the parties, candidates and issues.
Barriers to voting: motivation to vote and access to the electoral process
The study also looked at the impact of specific barriers to voting.
Barriers to participation were considered in terms of motivation to vote (attitudes, interest and political knowledge) and access to the electoral process (knowledge of the electoral process, personal circumstances and administrative issues).
The study found that motivational and access barriers were equally important in terms of their impact on voting.
The most important motivational barriers to voting were lack of political interest and knowledge, a belief that all political parties were the same and that no party spoke to issues relevant to youth, and a lower sense that voting was a civic duty.
The most important access barrier was lack of knowledge about the electoral process, including not knowing about different ways to vote and not knowing how or when to vote, followed by difficulty getting to the polling station, difficulty providing identification or proof of address, and not receiving a voter information card.
Youth who voted reported being influenced by politicians, especially if they had been contacted directly by a party or candidate.
Those who discussed politics with their family, both while growing up and currently, were more likely to vote.
Youth who used TV as their main source of information about the election were less likely to vote.
Other factors associated with voting and non-voting
Youth with a university degree were more likely to vote than those without.
Low income was also a predictor of not voting.
Youth in the five subgroups reported voting at rates that were significantly lower than that of the general youth population, with the lowest turnout reported by Aboriginal youth and unemployed youth.
For Aboriginal youth, the most important barriers to voting were lower educational attainment, low awareness of the different ways to vote, lack of interest in the election, and difficulty getting to the polling station.
For ethnocultural youth, the most important barriers to voting were not receiving a voter information card, lack of interest in the election, not knowing when to vote, and using TV as their main source of information about the election.
For unemployed youth not in school, the most important barriers to voting were not receiving a voter information card, difficulty getting to the polling station, lack of interest in the election, and low awareness of the different ways to vote.
For youth with disabilities, the most important barriers to voting were not receiving a voter information card, low levels of political knowledge, and lack of interest in the election.
For youth in rural areas, the most important barriers to voting were difficulty getting to polling station, low awareness of the different ways to vote, lack of interest in the election, and low levels of political knowledge.
Youth in the subgroups had fewer political influencers than the general youth population. Family was a significant influencer for Aboriginal, ethnocultural, unemployed and rural youth. Politicians were a significant influencer only for rural youth.
Interventions likely to have the most immediate impact are those that address young peoples' access to the electoral process:
Increasing awareness about where, when and how to vote
Using methods other than traditional mail to distribute voter information cards
Reviewing voter identification options
Locating polling stations where youth are likely to be, making them more welcoming to youth, and making them more "child-friendly" for young parents
Interventions to address motivational barriers to voting are equally important, but require a longer-term approach. They include supporting civic education to increase youth knowledge about politics and democracy in Canada.
Family, politicians, educators and the media have an important role to play in influencing and mobilizing youth to vote.
Particular efforts should be made to reach youth with lower educational attainment, for example by directing attention to employment centres, remedial education programs and youth outreach centres.