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The Electoral Participation of Diverse Canadian Youth in the 2015 Federal Election

Note to the Reader

This report was presented at the conference “Youth Political Participation: On the Diverse Roads to Democracy,” June 16–17, 2016, Montreal, Quebec.

Executive Summary


It is generally recognized that younger Canadians vote less than the rest of the population. However, there is evidence that there is some variation within the group of young Canadians and that some youth vote less than others. This report examines the variation in voter turnout among Canadians aged 18 to 34 years old, and investigates the causes of the lower propensity to vote of diverse groups of young Canadians. The report compares: Aboriginal youth to non-Aboriginal youth, visible minority youth to youth who are not members of visible minority groups, youth living in urban areas to youth living in rural areas, youth who are employed to youth who are unemployed and students, and finally youth with disabilities to youth who do not have a disability.

This report uses the National Youth Survey (NYS), a survey conducted by Elections Canada after the federal election of October 19, 2015. The NYS was conducted by Nielsen, online or via cellphone, and surveyed a total of 3,009 Canadians in all provinces and territories. Of these, 2,506 respondents were young Canadians aged 18 to 34, and 503 were aged 35 and older. The youth sample included a nationally representative sample (1,752) and an over-sample of different youth subgroups (754): Aboriginal youth, ethno-cultural youth, youth residing in rural areas, youth with disabilities, and unemployed youth (Nielsen 2016).

Overview of the Results

In this report, we provide evidence of how the diverse groups of youth differ in terms of their socio-demographic background, their social experiences, and their political participation, and how these factors help explain the electoral participation of diverse Canadian youth. In the context of the 2015 federal election, we found that youth living in rural areas and unemployed youth were substantially less likely to vote. Their self-reported voter turnout rates are respectively 68% and 47%, compared to the general turnout rate of 71.1% for youth overall. Our results suggest that electoral participation of youth can be explained by the same factors that explain the participation of older Canadian citizens. And so, the traditional resource model seems to be applicable to youth as well (Blais and Loewen 2011, Gélineau 2013). However, the analyses reveal that different subgroups of youth have varying levels of resources, and that several socio-demographic characteristics, access barriers and political attitudes are more important in explaining the electoral participation of some youth groups than others.