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Explaining the Turnout Decline in Canadian Federal Elections: A New Survey of Non-voters

11. Personal/Administrative Factors

We return at this point in the report to the personal or administrative reasons given for not voting, as identified in the factor analysis in Table 2, and observed in more detail in tables 711 and accompanying text. These reasons involved not knowing where or when to vote, not being registered, being ill, away from home or busy at work.

Table 50 Predictors of Likelihood of Voting at the Next Election (Multiple Regression; 2000 Non-voters only)

  Unstandardized B Standard Error Beta
Born in Canada
Length of residence
Personal/Administrative factors for 2000 non-voters†
Lack of interest factors for 2000 non-voters†
 R2 = .156
 N = 923
 ? = factor scores
 * = statistically significant at < .01

A demonstration of the different character of personal/administrative and lack of interest reasons for not voting may be found in Table 50. This presents the results of a multiple regression analysis with the dependent variable the responses to the question, "How likely are you to vote in the next general election at the federal level?" We have here used the factor scores on the personal/administrative and lack of interest factors from the factor analysis reported in Table 2 as independent, predictor variables of future voting intentions along with a selection of demographic variables. Table 50 shows that those non-voters for whom personal/administrative factors were important in their non-voting behaviour in 2000 are strongly associated with the intention to vote in the future (Beta = .316, p < .000). Having lack of interest as a reason for not voting in 2000, however, is associated with the opposite phenomenon, a lower expressed likelihood of voting in the future (Beta = -.156, p < .000). The only demographic variable entered into this analysis that achieves statistical significance in predicting the likelihood of voting in the next federal election is higher education (Beta = -.12, p < .000). Age, length of residence in the community, birth in Canada, and urban-rural residence are not significant predictors.

This result illustrates that those non-voters in 2000 who report being affected in their decision by what we call "personal/administrative factors" are actually quite unlike those who are not interested in politics or elections. They show every indication of wanting to vote in future, if they are able to overcome what they saw as deterrents in 2000. Any changes in electoral procedures that would allow more convenient registration or voting for this group of current non-voters might well pay dividends in allowing them to enter the active electorate.

Table 51 "Was your name on the list of electors?"

TOTAL Yes= 81.7%  ;  No= 9.7%  ;  Don't know/No answer= 8.5%  ;  VOTERS  Yes= 95.6%  ;  No= 2.9%  ;  Don't know/No answer= 1.5%  ;   NON-VOTERS  Yes= 69.7%  ;  No= 15.6%  ;  Don't know/No answer= 14.7%


Table 52 "Problem making sure that your name was on the list?"

TOTAL  Yes= 7.6%  ;  No= 88.2%  ;  Don't know/No answer= 4.2%  ;   VOTERS  Yes= 5.6%  ;  No= 93.7%  ;  Don't know/No answer= 0.7%  ;   NON-VOTERS  Yes= 9.4%  ;  No= 83.4%  ;  Don't know/No answer= 7.2%


Table 53 "Problem finding out where to vote?"

TOTAL  Yes= 8.8%  ;  No= 89.6%  ;  Don't know/No answer= 1.6%  ;   VOTERS  Yes= 4.7%  ;  No= 94.7%  ;  Don't know/No answer= 0.5%  ;   NON-VOTERS  Yes= 12.4%  ;  No= 85.1%  ;  Don't know/No answer= 2.6%

Table 51 further clarifies the coverage of the list of electors prepared for the 2000 federal election. When respondents were directly asked whether their name was on the list, 81.7 percent said yes, 9.7 percent said no and the remaining 8.5 percent did not know. The division of that table into voters and non-voters in the election produces a considerable difference, indicative, no doubt, of the lack of interest of some non-voters in the process. We can see that, of those who ended up not voting in the election, only 69.7 percent knew they were on the list, while 15.6 percent said they were not and 14.7 percent did not know. Only a relatively small number of those who voted in 2000 report not being on the list. It is difficult to interpret with certainty the meaning of that answer, since they all would have ended up on the list eventually if they voted, even if they were added at the poll itself. Presumably, those voters who said they were not on the list meant that they were not originally on the list but had themselves added at some stage.

Tables 52 and 53 show the results when both voters and non-voters were asked whether they encountered problems making sure that their names were on the list of electors and finding out where to vote. Less than 10 percent of the total sample did report such problems, but predictably the eventual non-voters reported them at higher levels, 9.4 percent of non-voters reported a problem making sure their names were on the list, with a further 7.2 percent unsure about that. And 12.4 percent of non-voters reported experiencing a problem finding out where to vote, perhaps reflective of the lack of a voter information card.

To investigate the specific nature of these problems, those who mentioned one in tables 52 and 53 were asked to describe the nature of the problem. These are tabulated in Table 54. Multiple responses were permitted.

Table 54 Details of Registration or Voting Problems

Percentage of respondents*
Not registered; not on list
Difficulty finding where/when to vote
Problems with polling station
Away from riding
Too busy
Moving/recently moved
Lack of interest, information (not administrative)
Political problems (not administrative)
N = 220
* multiple responses permitted

Table 54 summarizes the particular problems mentioned by about one fifth of the non-voters in the study. Those who had registration difficulties said that they had to undertake an inquiry or an effort to get themselves registered, or to correct information that was incorrect. Some did not receive a voter information card, and some had difficulty finding out how or where to correct the information. A few people complained that no one came to their house to register them. For those with difficulties in the second category, most did not know the location of their polling station. For some, distance to the station, or accessibility, were problems. A few people felt they were being given a run-around by being sent to another poll. As for the other categories of a personal or administrative nature, problems with being away from the riding, too busy, or having recently moved are all situations we have met before in replies to our questions.

Table 55 Watched Elections Canada TV Commercial

TOTAL  Yes= 68.9%  ;  No= 26.8%  ;  Don't know/No answer= 63.9%  ;   VOTERS  Yes= 74.7%  ;  No= 20.1%  ;  Don't know/No answer= 5.2%  ;   NON-VOTERS  Yes= 63.9%  ;  No= 32.5%  ;  Don't know/No answer= 3.6%


Table 56 Found TV Commercial Clear or Confusing

TOTAL  Very clear= 40.1%  ;  Clear enough= 45%  ;  A little confusing= 5.5%  ;  Very confusing=  1.3%  ;  Don't know/No answer= 8.2%  ;   VOTERS  Very clear= 39.4%  ;  Clear enough= 47.4%  ;  A little confusing= 3.1%  ;  Very confusing= 0.4%  ;  Don't know/No answer= 9.7%  ;   NON-VOTERS  Very clear= 40.9%  ;  Clear enough= 42.6%  ;  A little confusing= 7.9%  ;  Very confusing= 2.1%  ;  Don't know/No answer= 6.6%

As a final subject for investigation in this section, tables 55 and 56 report the results of questions asking whether respondents saw the television "commercial" run by Elections Canada at the time of the 2000 election campaign asking "Are you on the list?" This informational announcement became the subject of some controversy, since it contained the message that those who were not on the list of electors could not vote, without mentioning that such registration could be achieved on polling day at the polls. Thus, some commentators felt that this message might discourage turnout.

The results of these inquiries indicate that the television advertisement appears to have achieved wide visibility and impact, since over two thirds of respondents (68.9 percent) could recall seeing it a year and a half after the fact (Table 55). Although we are not privy to information about the success of marketing campaigns for commercial products, it would seem likely that this kind of public memory about the marketing campaign for some product would indicate a good result. Further results indicate (Table 56) that few people report finding the commercial confusing. Only about 7 percent of those who saw it report finding it confusing, even "a little". The number of non-voters finding it confusing was 10 percent, not a result that would provide support for critics of the advertising campaign.