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


Many Western democracies experience declining trends in electoral participation. In Canada, as in other countries, the decline in turnout tends to be particularly concentrated among young citizens (Blais et al. 2004, Dalton 2007, Blais and Loewen 2011). However, not all youth are "dropping out" of electoral politics at the same rate. Indeed, several studies have found evidence that some youth may be more likely to stay away from the ballot box (Gidengil et al. 2003, Blais et al. 2004). In fact, Gélineau (2013) documented that in the 2011 Canadian general election, Aboriginal youth, youth not born in Canada, youth with lower levels of income and education, and youth living in rural areas voted at lower rates (compared with non-Aboriginal, Canadian-born, more privileged and urban youth).

Whereas in many behavioural studies youth are treated as a monolithic group, this report aims to further investigate the variations in electoral participation among different groups of young Canadians, and to explain why some groups of youth are less likely to participate in elections. Many studies of political behaviour rely on the resource model to explain why citizens participate in elections (Verba and Nie 1972, Verba et al. 1995). In the Civic Voluntarism Model, Verba and colleagues (1995) identify three sets of factors as important determinants of political participation: socio-economic resources (such as education and income), psychological engagement (such as political interest and knowledge), and social resources (such as involvement in organizations). While past studies have found that youth are similar to other citizens in terms of which factors explain their decision to vote (Blais and Loewen 2011, Gélineau 2013), they nonetheless differ in the levels of these resources. Additionally, youth from different backgrounds, who have different life circumstances, may display varying levels of economic, social and political resources. We thus compare the socio-demographic profiles and the different resources available to Aboriginal versus non-Aboriginal youth, visible minority versus non-minority youth, unemployed youth and students versus employed youth, youth living in urban or rural areas, and youth with a disability versus youth with no disability.

In the first section, we will examine the variation in electoral participation within the groups of young Canadians aged 18 to 34 years old. We present in the second section how the various groups of youth compare in terms of their socio-demographic profile and life circumstances. In the subsequent sections, we then focus on the several important factors of the explanation of electoral participation: access barriers, political resources, political attitudes, political mobilization, and social and political engagement. Finally, in the last section we present a multivariate model that estimates the importance of each factor in explaining the electoral participation of different youth groups in Canada. We conclude our report with a summary of the findings and several policy recommendations.