open Secondary menu

2015 National Youth Survey

Executive Summary


Elections Canada commissioned the first National Youth Survey (NYS) following the May 2011 federal general election. The first large-scale study of its kind, the 2011 NYS provided detailed information on the motivational and access barriers that Canadian youth aged 18 to 34 experience that prevent them from voting. The study generated information on the voting behaviour of youth in general as well as different youth subgroups – namely, Aboriginal youth, ethnocultural youth, Footnote 1 unemployed youth not in school, Footnote 2 youth with disabilities and youth residing in rural areas. The results of the 2011 survey were subsequently used by Elections Canada to target and tailor its outreach activities and educational initiatives.

Understanding barriers to voting is essential for both Elections Canada and youth-serving organizations to be able to effectively reach out to youth and provide them with the information they need on where, when and the different ways of voting. The 2015 NYS was commissioned to update the findings following the 42nd general election, held on October 19, 2015. With the large representative sample and significant number of respondents from key subgroups, the NYS provides a unique portrait of youth voting behaviour in Canada.


A total of 3,009 surveys were completed among Canadians in all provinces and territories in the official language of the respondents' choice. Of these, 2,506 respondents were young Canadians aged 18 to 34, segmented by region, and 503 were aged 35 and older. The study employed a mixed-mode sampling methodology: a total of 1,503 respondents (including 1,000 youth and 503 respondents aged 35+) were randomly selected and completed the survey by cell phone; the remaining 1,506 respondents were chosen non-randomly from online panels and completed the survey online. Footnote 3

The youth sample included a nationally representative core sample (1,752) as well as an oversample (754) of youth from the following subgroups: Aboriginal youth, ethnocultural youth, youth residing in rural areas, youth with disabilities and unemployed youth. Further details on the methodology, including the breakdown by subgroups, are provided in this report.

Key Findings

Overall, the findings indicate differences in reported behaviour, attitudes and knowledge about voting and the voting process between the youth and older adult groups. These differences appear consistently throughout the findings, affecting both access and motivational factors, and indicate that youth in particular have different information needs than older adults.


To begin, reported voter participation is high, at 70% for the youth cohort and 91% for those over the age of 35. While this is higher than the official turnout in the 2015 federal election (68.3%), it is not unusual for survey research.

Overall, close to seven in ten of those who voted did so on election day, while the remainder voted in the advance polls. The numbers voting on election day are similar for youth (69%) and older adults (67%).

Use of Elections Canada's online voter registration service was much higher among youth than older adults (28% vs. 12%). Use was highest among Aboriginal youth and youth with a disability and lowest among unemployed youth and youth living in Quebec.

Access Factors

There is a relatively high degree of awareness of the voter information card (VIC). However, youth (76%) are less likely to remember receiving the VIC in comparison to adults over 35 years of age (94%). This is particularly evident among those between 18 and 22 years old, 69% of whom recalled receiving the VIC.

Youth are generally less knowledgeable than older adults about the different ways one can vote in a federal election. On an unprompted basis, 34% of youth were aware of the option to vote at the advance polls, compared to 65% of older adults. On the other hand, youth were more aware than older adults of the option to vote by mail (29% vs. 19%).

Awareness of the need to prove identity and address in order to vote is high among all respondents. In fact, 96% of youth and 99% of the 35+ group were aware of the need to prove identity, while 91% of youth and 96% of older adults were aware of the need to prove address.

Youth are less likely to agree or strongly agree that voting is easy and convenient in comparison to those over the age of 35 (84% vs. 96%). Within the youth cohort, those between the ages of 18 and 22, Aboriginal youth, youth with a disability and unemployed youth are less likely to strongly agree that voting is easy and convenient.

By and large, majorities of youth and older adults claim that they found it easy to find information about registration and the voting process, including where, when and the different ways to vote.

  • 74% of youth and 85% of those over the age of 35 found it somewhat or very easy to find out how to register to vote. At the other end of the scale, about 8% of youth thought this information was somewhat or very difficult to find.
  • 93% of youth and 96% of older adults found it somewhat or very easy to find out where to vote. Just 5% of youth found this information difficult to find.
  • 89% of youth and 98% of older adults found it somewhat or very easy to find out when to vote, with just 3% of youth finding it difficult.
  • Finding information about the different ways to vote was somewhat more difficult, with 19% of youth and 9% of older adults indicating that this information was at least somewhat difficult to find. That said, majorities of both youth (61%) and older adults (76%) said they found it somewhat or very easy to find.

While the vast majority of youth and older voters indicated that proving identity and address was easy, 5% of youth voters indicated that it was somewhat or very difficult. This rises to 9% among Aboriginal youth voters and 11% among youth with a disability who voted. Among those who indicated that it was difficult, 76% had difficulty proving their address.

The need to prove identity and address was even more likely to have been perceived as a barrier among those who did not vote. Some 12% of youth non-voters indicated that it would have been at least somewhat difficult to prove their identity and address; this rises to 17% among Aboriginal youth and 24% among youth with a disability who did not vote. Among non-voters who perceived a difficulty, just over half said it would have been difficult to prove their address, while similar proportions would find it challenging to prove identity or both address and identity.

While getting to the polling station appears to have been somewhat or very easy for nearly all youth and older voters, among non-voters the perception of difficulty was greater: 18% of youth non-voters and 19% of non-voters over the age of 35 thought it would have been at least somewhat difficult to get to their voting location. This rises to 23% among Aboriginal youth and 22% among youth with a disability who did not vote.

Motivational Factors

While youth are generally satisfied with the way democracy works in Canada, more than a quarter of those surveyed are somewhat or very dissatisfied. Dissatisfaction is highest among Aboriginal youth (37%) and youth with a disability (35%).

When asked to agree or disagree with a series of statements about politics and voting, youth and older adults generally demonstrated similar attitudes. Youth were less likely than older adults to feel that by voting they could make a difference and more likely to feel that politics and government seem too complicated.

The results also point to some differences in degree of interest in politics and democracy. On the whole, those over the age of 35 express more interest in Canadian politics (53% very interested vs. 28% among youth). Older adults are also considerably more likely to believe that voting is a duty (64%) rather than a choice (36%), while among youth the division is almost equal – 49% see voting as a duty, while 47% see it as a choice.

Youth were significantly less likely than older adults to have been contacted by a political party or candidate during the 2015 federal election (29% vs. 59%). They are also less likely to say that they often talked about politics at home when they were growing up (22% for youth vs. 33% for older adults).

The survey highlights that youth have a wide-ranging level of engagement in a number of political activities. They are most likely to say they searched online for information about politics (68%), followed by watching a leaders' debate (49%) and raising money for a cause (42%). Older adults were more likely to have watched a leaders' debate (65%) and less likely than youth to have searched for information online (60%). Of interest is the fact that 40% of youth, but just 29% of older adults, used social media to share political information; this rises to 54% among Aboriginal youth and 51% among youth with a disability.

The analysis indicates that about 36% of youth can be classified as "very engaged," compared to 34% of older adults. At the opposite end of the scale, 14% of youth surveyed and 8% of older adults can be described as disengaged.

Similar proportions of youth (39%) and older adults (38%) indicated that they had volunteered for an organization in the previous 12 months. In contrast, very few youth (7%) or older adults (12%) had volunteered for a political party or candidate.

Youth are more likely than older adults to recall taking a course in high school where they learned about government and politics (60% vs. 50%).

Youth and older adults indicated that they use somewhat different sources to get information about the election. Youth were most likely to use a media website or other web source (23%), followed by television (20%) and social networking sites (19%). Older adults were most likely to rely on television (37%), followed by media websites (19%) and newspapers (16%). Of note is that Aboriginal youth were most likely to rely on social networking sites (29%).

Older adults were much more likely to find it very or somewhat easy to get enough information about the candidates and parties to know whom to vote for. Fully 59% of older adults found this very easy, compared to just 34% of youth.

Finally, older adults demonstrated higher levels of political knowledge, as measured by a series of five knowledge-testing questions. While 65% of older adults were able to answer at least four out of five questions correctly, this drops to 45% among youth. At the opposite end of the scale, 10% of youth and 2% of older adults were unable to answer any questions correctly.

Footnote 1 Defined in this study as those under the age of 35 who identify themselves as a visible minority or those who were born outside Canada but who do not consider themselves a visible minority and for whom English, French or an Aboriginal language is not their first language.

Footnote 2 Throughout this report, this group is referred to as "unemployed youth."

Footnote 3 Throughout this report, this group is referred to as either "older adults" or "35+ group."