open Secondary menu

IntroductionEstimation of Voter Turnout by Age Group and Gender at the 2021 General Election

This report presents estimates of voter turnout by various demographic groups defined by age and gender, at the national, provincial, and territorial levels for the 44th general election, held on September 20, 2021.

The official turnout for the 2021 election was 62.6%. Historically, electoral participation peaked in Canada at 79.4% for the 1958 general election. Throughout the 1960s, turnout remained relatively high, fluctuating between 75% and 79%. The next two decades saw it decline slightly but still ranging from 70% to 75%. In the 1990s, electoral participation began to decline to a historic low of 58.8% in the 2008 general election.

Differences in electoral participation among various demographic groups have been the subject of much academic research and analysis. Most of this research has been based on estimates from surveys, which is often biased towards overestimating voter turnout.3

Since 2004, after each general election, the Chief Electoral Officer has used administrative data from the electoral process to produce turnout estimates by age group.

This research is free from the biases that are common in voluntary survey-based studies. Between 2004 and 2015, Elections Canada drew a sample of the physical copy of these records to produce estimates. Then, starting with the 2019 election, the complete set of records was digitized. Now, turnout estimates are produced using the entire data, instead of a sample. This change allows for increased accuracy compared to previous elections.

Also, since 2019, electors are given the opportunity to register as a third gender, "Gender X,". This third gender option was subsequently revised to "Another gender". Information about these electors has been published accordingly.

Figure 1: Official Turnout Rates in Canadian General Elections, 1949 to 2021*

Text version of "Figure 1: Official Turnout Rates in Canadian General Elections, 1949 to 2021*"
Polling day Registered electors Voters Official turnout
27 June 1949 7,893,629 5,903,572 73.8%
10 August 1953 8,401,691 5,701,963 67.5%
10 June 1957 8,902,125 6,680,690 74.1%
31 March 1958 9,131,200 7,357,139 79.4%
18 June 1962 9,700,325 7,772,656 79.0%
8 April 1963 9,910,757 7,958,636 79.2%
8 November 1965 10,274,904 7,796,728 74.8%
25 June 1968 10,860,888 8,217,916 75.7%
30 October 1972 13,000,778 9,974,661 76.7%
8 July 1974 13,620,353 9,671,002 71.0%
22 May 1979 15,233,653 11,541,000 75.7%
18 February 1980 15,890,416 11,015,514 69.3%
4 September 1984 16,774,941 12,638,424 75.3%
21 November 1988 17,639,001 13,281,191 75.3%
25 October 1993 19,906,796 13,863,135 69.6%
2 June 1997 19,663,478 13,174,698 67.0%
27 November 2000 21,243,473 12,997,185 64.1%
28 June 2004 22,466,621 13,683,570 60.9%
23 January 2006 23,054,615 14,908,703 64.7%
14 October 2008 23,677,639 13,929,093 58.8%
2 May 2011 24,257,592 14,823,408 61.1%
19 October 2015 25,939,742 17,711,983 68.3%
21 October 2019 27,373,058 18,350,359 67.0%
20 September 2021 27,509,496 17,209,811 62.6%

*Official turnout in Canada is based on the count of individuals on the final list of electors.

For Canadian federal elections, official voter turnout is calculated as the number of votes cast divided by the number of registered electors. Because registration rates vary over time, this measure can be misleading when comparing turnout from two different elections. That is, the differences observed in Figure 1 are partly due to changes in list coverage (the percentage of eligible electors on the list) over time. The list coverage can vary across different segments of the population as well, and can also differ by region. For example, youth ages 18-24 consistently have lower coverage compared to the rest of the electorate.

To overcome these limitations, this study defines turnout as the number of votes cast divided by the estimated number of eligible voters, regardless of their registration status. Because these estimates are generally larger than the number of registered electors, the resulting turnout estimates are typically lower than official turnout figures. Therefore, comparisons over time and between demographic groups reflect only changes in participation, net of any variations in registration rates.

For the purposes of this study, the estimated number of eligible voters is based on the 2016 Census and annual demographic changes provided by Statistics Canada (eligible population adjusted to September 2021). Gender proportions from the 2021 Census were applied to the September 2021 eligible population estimates. More details on how turnout is defined, the methodology used to determine the size of the electoral population, and the estimation methodology are presented in the Appendix.

Footnote

3 For an example of the discussions on the gap between actual and self-reported turnout numbers, see:

Holbrook, Allyson L., and Jon A. Krosnick. "Social Desirability Bias in Voter Turnout Reports: Tests Using the Item Count Technique." The Public Opinion Quarterly, vol. 74, no. 1 (2010): 3767 http://www.jstor.org/stable/40660537.

DeBell, Matthew, Jon A. Krosnick, Katie Gera, David S. Yeager, and Michael P. McDonald. "The Turnout Gap in Surveys: Explanations and Solutions."Sociological Methods & Research, vol. 49, no. 4 (November 2020): 113362. https://doi.org/10.1177/0049124118769085