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First-Time Electors – Youth

Research has demonstrated that some groups of electors, including youth, tend to vote less than the general Canadian population does. To ensure that these electors can exercise their right to vote in federal elections, it is important to understand the barriers they may face. To do so, Elections Canada looks at results of post-election surveys it conducts, as well as research on participation and democratic engagement. We also have ongoing consultations and relationships with various stakeholder groups, including organizations representing youth.

Definitions of "youth" vary from one study to the next, and much of the data available on youth and political participation include electors aged 18 to 24. While Elections Canada's interest is focused on first-time electors, we use the 18-to-24 age group as a proxy and, whenever possible, we present available evidence for this group. In this page, "older adults" refers to those aged 35 and older and "NEET youth" refers to electors aged 18 to 34 who were "not employed, in education or in training".

In 2020, youth aged 18 to 24 made up 8.9% of the population and those aged 18 to 34 made up 22.8% of the population (Statistics Canada).

In 1970, the voting age was lowered from 21 to 18; 18-year-olds could vote for the first time in the 1972 general election. Traditionally, youth vote at a much lower rate than older electors do. In the early 2000s, researchers identified two trends that have led to historic lows in youth turnout. First, newly eligible youth were voting at lower rates. Second, more recent generations of youth continued to vote less, even as they aged. These trends explained in large part the decline in voter turnout in Canadian federal elections since the early 1990s.

Notes:

Participating in federal elections

Young people continue to vote at significantly lower rates than older electors do.

  • In 2019, our estimates by age showed that voter turnout gradually increases with age from 53.9% for ages 18 to 24 to 79.1% for ages 65 to 74, and then declines to 68.6% for those 75 and older. This pattern has been seen in every general election since 2004 (Estimation of Voter Turnout by Age Group and Gender at the 2019 General Election).
  • Between 2011 and 2015, turnout for electors aged 1824 notably increased from 38.8% to 57.1%. After the surge in 2015, participation decreased by 3.2 points to 53.9% in 2019.

(Estimation of Voter Turnout by Age Group and Gender at the 2019 General Election).

  • According to survey results, NEET youth were less likely to report having voted (80%), compared with youth working full-time (90%) and youth attending school (89%).
  • Among those who did not vote, NEET youth were more likely to report that they did not vote due to political reasons (50%), compared with youth working full-time (41%) and youth attending school (30%).
  • Youth aged 18 to 24 were more likely to report not voting due to reasons related to the electoral process (8.2%) when compared with all Canadians (5.4%) (Labour Force Survey).

Attitudes and interest toward democracy and politics

Youth electors tend to show lower levels of satisfaction with and interest in democracy and politics.

  • In 2019, youth aged 18 to 24 were less likely to express satisfaction with the way democracy worked in Canada (70% were satisfied, versus 79% of electors 25 and older, compared with 70% and 68% in 2015, respectively), especially among NEET youth (58%, compared with 73% of youth in school and 72% of youth working full-time).
  • Before the call of the election, those aged 18 to 24 were also less likely to be very interested in politics (30%) than older electors were (36%).
  • Before the call of the election in 2019, youth aged 18 to 24 were less likely to view voting as a duty (64%) than as a choice, compared with electors aged 25 and older (74%). This is more acute among NEET youth (57%), compared with youth attending school (67%) and youth working full-time (70%).

Knowledge of the electoral process

Youth electors tend to be less knowledgeable about identification requirements, and less familiar with Elections Canada.

  • In 2019, youth aged 18 to 24 were less likely to mention advance polls as a way to vote in a federal election (56%) than Canadians aged 25 and older were (73%). There was little difference between these two groups in their mention of polling stations on election day (90% and 91%, respectively).
  • 18- to 24-year-olds were more likely to say that both proof of identity and address were required to vote in a federal election (79%) than Canadians aged 25 and older were (72%).
  • 18- to 24-year-olds (87%) were more likely to be familiar with Elections Canada than Canadians aged 25 and older were (84%).

Getting registered

Getting registered is a challenge for some youth.

  • Younger electors are much less likely than older electors to be on the National Register of Electors. In 2019, of a possible 369,000 eligible 18-year-olds, only 121,000 were registered to vote a coverage of 33%. This rate increased to 56% for electors aged 19, 68% for electors aged 20, 75% for electors aged 21, and upwards of 80% for electors aged 22 and older. For electors aged 35, coverage is estimated to be 99%. One explanation could be that residential mobility is higher between the ages of 20 and 29 than at any other age.
  • It is not surprising that youth aged 18 to 24 were less likely to say that they were registered (64%) than those aged 25 and older were (92%). This gap seems to have increased since 2015, when these results were 69% and 90%, respectively.
  • Youth aged 18 to 24 were also less likely to recall receiving a voter information card (83%) than Canadians aged 25 and older were (94%). This seems to have improved since 2015, when 71% of youth aged 18 to 24 reported recalling having received the card, compared with 92% for those aged 25 and older.
  • For those who had registered, youth aged 18 to 24 also found registration less easy (94%) than those aged 25 and older did (96%).

Getting to the polling place

Youth tend to find their polling places less familiar, and are more likely than older electors to report that it took them a long time to get there.

  • In 2019, youth aged 18 to 24 were less likely to say that the polling place was in a very familiar location (65%) than those aged 25 and older were (74%).
  • Youth aged 18 to 24 were less likely to report that travel to the voting location took 5 minutes or less (52%) than those 25 or older were (55%).

Voting at the polling place

Voting at the polling place appears to be challenging for some youth.

  • In 2019, youth aged 18 to 24 were less likely to say that it was very easy to vote (77%) than Canadians aged 25 and older were (86%). The likelihood of finding voting very easy appears to be lower than in 2015, when 84% of youth aged 18 to 24 found it easy, compared with 89% for those over 25.
  • Youth aged 18 to 24 were less likely to have been very satisfied with their voting experiences (76%) than were Canadians aged 25 and older (81%). These results are similar to those of 2015.

Providing identification

Proving identity or address remains a challenge for some youth.

  • To prove identification when voting in person, an elector must show one government-issued photo identification or two pieces of identification to prove their identity and address, or they can make a solemn declaration and be for vouched by another elector. These options aim at increasing accessibility for those who may have difficulties in proving their identity.
  • In 2019, youth aged 18 to 24 were more likely to have used two pieces of identification (6%) than those aged 35 to 74 were (4%).
  • Youth aged 18 to 24 were less likely to find it very easy to meet the identification requirements at the polls (90% in 2019 and 84% in 2015) than electors aged 25 and older were (94% in 2019 and 92% in 2015).
  • Among those who did not vote, youth aged 18 to 24 were more likely to report not being able to prove their identity or address (2.8%) than the overall population were (1.6%) (Labour Force Survey).

Trusting the electoral process

Youth tend to have less confidence and trust in the electoral process.

  • Youth aged 18 to 24 were less likely to have a great deal of confidence in Elections Canada (51%) than those aged 25 and over had (58%).
  • NEET youth were less likely to strongly agree that Elections Canada was the most trusted source of information about the electoral process (45%) than youth attending school (60%) or working full-time (59%) were.
  • Youth aged 18 to 24 were less likely to believe that the 2019 federal election was run very fairly (64%) than electors 25 and older were (70%). This perception seems to have improved since 2015, when 58% of those aged 18 to 24 reported that they found that the 2015 federal election had been run fairly, compared with 68% for those over 25 years old.
  • Youth aged 18 to 24 were less likely to report a very high level of trust in the accuracy of results (55%) than those aged 25 and older were (62%). This perception seems also to have improved since 2015, when 50% of those aged 18 to 24 had a very high level of trust, compared with 65% of those over 25 years old.

Did you know?

There is a difference between an elector and a voter. An elector is any Canadian citizen 18 years of age and over. A voter is a Canadian citizen who has voted.

View the National Electors Study A voter's journey: from home to the ballot box for a comparison of the experiences of the general population and groups that face barriers to participating in elections.

View the Information for First-Time Electors Youth page to learn about the programs and services designed to address the barriers to voting faced by youth electors.

Go to Inspire Democracy to learn more about how Elections Canada and our network of stakeholder organizations are working together to address some of the barriers to getting involved with elections.