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Youth Engagement and Mobilization in the 2010 Toronto Municipal Election

2. Survey Findings

2.1 Profile of Respondents

Table 1 presents a summary of survey respondents' socio-demographic characteristics. Previous work in both international and Canadian contexts has linked the life cycle – including transitions such as moving out and entering the workforce – to youth electoral participation (Howe 2007; Blais and Loewen 2009). We divide respondents into two subsamples, aged 18–21 (n = 425) and 22–35 (n = 363). By the age of 22, most respondents have been out of high school long enough to complete a four-year college or university degree. This scheme therefore serves as a convenient way to examine the transition to adulthood and independent living.10

Table 1: Socio-demographic profile of survey respondents
  18–21 22–35
Male 35.4% 39.3%
Born in Canada 75.3% 75.6%
Some post-secondary education 51.1% 94.2%
Completed college or university degree 5.0% 64.8%
Student 87.0% 41.9%
Employed full-time 2.1% 47.4%
Moved in the last year 36.8% 43.3%
Live in city centre 27.1% 46.9%
Live with a parent 65.9% 40.5%

The sample as a whole is disproportionately female (61%), with men being even less prevalent in the 18–21 age group. Immigrants are consistently represented throughout the sample; about one quarter of all respondents were born outside of Canada, with similar proportions in both age groups.

These age groups exhibit major differences in terms of education and employment. The overwhelming majority (94%) or respondents aged 22–35 have completed some level of post-secondary education, and almost two-thirds (64%) have either a college or university degree. Among respondents aged 18–21, about half (51%) have completed at least one year of post-secondary education, and very few (5%) hold any kind of post-secondary degree.

We attribute these differences to the life cycle, as a larger proportion of older respondents have completed their education and entered the workforce. Younger respondents are much more likely to currently be enrolled at a post-secondary institution (87%) than working full-time (2%), whereas older respondents are more evenly divided between students (42%) and full-time employees (47%).

Older respondents also have more independent lifestyles. Those aged 22–35 are less likely to live with a parent (41%) and more likely to have moved in the past year (43%) than their younger counterparts (66% and 37% respectively). Similarly, respondents aged 22–35 are much more likely to live in Central Toronto (47%) than those aged 18–21 (27%).

These findings paint a portrait of two relatively distinct groups, which we refer to as "recent adults" and "young independents." Recent adults are youth who have graduated from high school within the last four years. Most of them are pursuing some type of post-secondary education, and they are more likely to still live with a parent. Young independents, by comparison, are more likely to have entered the workforce and moved away from home, often to the city centre. Of the young independents who are students, almost half (45%) already have some type of post-secondary degree.

2.2 Engagement Indicators

The differences between recent adults and young independents extend beyond socio-demographic factors. Table 2 compares the two groups based on a series of civic and political engagement indicators.11 Older respondents score higher on the majority of these indicators, regardless of whether they are related directly to electoral engagement.

Table 2: Engagement indicators for survey respondents
  18–21 22–35
Voted in 2010 municipal election 62.9% 79.4%
High interest in politics 25.4% 45.6%
High interest in municipal election 31.1% 46.5%
Believe voting is a duty 51.8% 61.3%
Satisfied with democracy 72.2% 59.8%
Follow news and current events daily 27.6% 47.5%
Correctly answered all four knowledge questions 43.7% 56.3%
Contacted a politician or government official 19.0% 39.0%
Volunteered for a campaign 12.9% 19.6%
Made ethical or political purchases 50.2% 61.3%
Attended a public demonstration 28.2% 37.4%
Volunteered in their community 68.6% 66.7%

Respondents aged 18–21 are less interested in politics. They are less likely to express high levels of interest in politics generally (25%) and in the 2010 municipal election (31%) than those aged 22–35 (46% and 47% respectively). Similarly, younger respondents are much less likely to follow the news and current events on a daily basis (28%) than their older counterparts (48%).

Given their higher levels of interest, it comes as no surprise that older respondents also perform better on a test of general political knowledge: 56% of those aged 22–35 answered all of four of the survey's knowledge-testing questions correctly, compared to 44% of those aged 18–21.

In terms of turnout, respondents in the older group are significantly more likely to report having voted (79%) than those in the younger group (63%). Respondents aged 22–35 are also more likely to believe that voting is a duty (61%) than those aged 18–21 (52%). In spite of this, younger respondents appear to be more satisfied with the democratic process itself. When asked how they feel about the way democracy works in Canada, 72% of those aged 18–21 described themselves as "very" or "fairly" satisfied. Only 60% of those aged 22–35 responded similarly.

The gap between these groups narrows for other forms of engagement. The survey asked respondents about their involvement in five activities during the last year, ranging from contacting a politician to volunteering in the community. Respondents aged 22–35 are more likely to contact a politician (39%) or attend a demonstration (37%) than those aged 18–21 (19% and 28% respectively). However, respondents from both groups are unlikely to volunteer for a political campaign, and they volunteer in their communities at similar rates: 69% for those aged 18–21 and 67% for those aged 22–35.

Young independents are clearly more engaged on the whole, particularly in politics and elections. The gap between them and recent adults is largest for traditional political engagement: contacting politicians, following the news daily, and general interest in the political system. For civic or alternative political activities such as volunteering or public demonstrations, the gap is smaller.

As for the puzzling finding that those who tend to participate less in the democratic process (i.e. younger respondents) express more satisfaction with it, we have no clear explanation. Perhaps, as Aesop said, familiarity breeds contempt. The relationship between political attitudes and the life cycle certainly deserves further study, as discussed in the Recommendations section.

2.3 Election Indicators

The differences between the two groups are smaller for election-specific indicators, as summarized in Table 3. Young independents still score higher than recent adults in terms of seeking out information about the election, but this is hardly surprising, given their higher levels of political interest.

In early October, the City of Toronto sent a voter information card (VIC) to all registered voters in the city. Roughly half of all respondents recalled receiving a VIC in the mail prior to the election, and the likelihood of receiving a card does not differ significantly between the two age groups (47% versus 48%).

Table 3: Election indicators for survey respondents
  18–21 22–35
Received a voter information card 47.1% 47.9%
Remember Toronto Elections youth slogan 36.4% 29.3%
Called 311 hotline about election 14.6% 14.4%
Read election brochure or flyer 61.6% 66.5%
Visited Toronto Elections Web site 69.2% 79.4%
Encouraged to vote by family 58.9% 50.7%
Encouraged to vote by friends 49.8% 61.7%

Younger respondents are somewhat more likely to remember seeing the slogan for Toronto Elections' youth outreach campaign (36% versus 29%). The slogan – "Your vote is your voice. Speak up 10/25/10." – was chosen through a public contest for Torontonians aged 14–24, which likely accounts for this finding. On the other hand, respondents aged 22–35 are more likely to get information from election brochures (67%) or the Toronto Elections Web site (79%) than those aged 18–21 (62% and 69% respectively). On the whole, these distinctions are less pronounced than the socio-demographic and engagement gaps discussed earlier.

In a similar vein, respondents aged 18–21 are more likely to be encouraged to vote by their family (59%) than by their friends (50%). The reverse is true of those aged 22–35, who are more likely to be encouraged by friends (62%) than family (51%). This difference can be attributed to residential patterns, as younger respondents are more likely to live and socialize with their parents.

2.4 Contact Indicators

The post-election questionnaire included a battery of 14 contact indicators: the survey asked respondents whether or not they had been encouraged to vote by either a candidate or an organization during the election, as well as how they had been contacted. The results are summarized in Table 4.12

Table 4: Campaign contact for survey respondents
18–21 22–35
In person 45.8% 57.2%
At an event 21.7% 29.7%
By phone 45.3% 38.3%
By mail 50.0% 65.3%
By e-mail 26.3% 38.1%
By text message 1.5% 3.9%
Through social media 37.6% 53.8%
By a candidate 70.7% 80.9%
By an organization 59.7% 62.2%

On the whole, respondents aged 22–35 are more likely to be contacted by almost every method. The sole exception was contact by phone, with those aged 18–21 being more likely to receive a phone call (45%) than those aged 22–35 (38%). Contact rates by text message are extremely low for both age groups, with only 3% of the entire sample receiving any election-related text messages.

A trend emerges when we consolidate the indicators based on the source of the contact. 76% of all respondents recall being contacted by a candidate, while 61% recall being contacted by another organization. Younger and older respondents are equally likely to be contacted by other organizations prior to the election (62% and 60% respectively). However, respondents aged 22–35 are more likely to be contacted by a candidate (81%) than those aged 18–21 (71%). The predictors of campaign contact, as well as the impact of contact on turnout, are discussed further in the next section of this report. The discussion includes an examination of the different contact methods and their impact on respondents.

10 Conducting the analysis with 23 as the dividing age yields similar results, with the 18–23 subsample living independently and scoring slightly higher on indicators of engagement. This reinforces the imputation of the differences between these subsamples to life-cycle effects.

11 Both questionnaires included civic duty and political interest indicators. Where possible, we present responses from the pre-election questionnaire, which had a larger sample (n = 796). There were no significant pre-to-post differences among respondents who completed both questionnaires.

12 Because the questionnaire recorded contact by candidates and other organizations separately, all of the indicators in this table are dichotomous composites (i.e. respondents contacted "by phone" include those who received a phone call from a candidate, from an organization, or from both). Table 10 (in Appendix C) provides a summary of candidate and organization contact rates.