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

1. Levels of Electoral Participation among Diverse Groups of Young Canadians

In order to answer the question of why young Canadians are less likely to vote in elections, we look more specifically at different groups of young Canadians and examine how they compare in their electoral participation. Indeed, previous studies have pointed out that the low and declining levels of turnout among young citizens may in fact be due to specific groups of youth participating much less than others (Gidengil et al. 2003, Blais et al. 2004, Gallego 2009, Gélineau 2013).

We start by exploring reported voter turnout among various age subgroups in the 2015 federal election. We know from past evidence that youth vote less than their older counterparts, but it is generally expected that individuals vote at higher rates as they age. This is the life-cycle effect (Wolfinger and Rosenstone 1980, Highton and Wolfinger 2001). In October 2015, younger Canadians were indeed less likely to vote than the older Canadians, and as indicated in Table 1, voter turnout tends to increase as Canadians get older. Reported turnoutFootnote 1 among 18- to 19-year-old Canadians is 68.1%. This increases to 70.6% among the 20- to 24-year-olds and to 78.2% among the 25- to 29-year-olds. Voter turnout slightly drops among the 30- to 34-year-olds, to 67.3%. Reported voter turnout is highest among the older age group, as 91.5% of the Canadians 35 years old or older indicated they had voted in the 2015 federal election. In line with Gélineau's findings (2013), we find that the increase in turnout is not linear. However, contrary to the NYS results from the 2011 federal election, we do not see a drop in reported voter turnout among youth aged 20 to 24, but instead we observe one among youth aged 30 to 34 years old (Gélineau 2013). These results show that a substantial turnout age gap remains between the youngest and oldest age groups, with a 23.4 percentage point gap in turnout between the 18- to 19-year-olds and the citizens aged 35 years and older.

Table 1: Self-Reported Voter Turnout among Youth Subgroups for the Federal Election of October 19, 2015
% Total
Age groups
18–19 68.1*** 260
20–24 70.6*** 771
25–29 78.2*** 682
30–34 67.3*** 741
Young Canadians (18–34) 71.1*** 2,454
Older Canadians (35+) • 91.5 503
Living environment
Youth living in rural areas (with a population <10,000) 68.0* 547
Youth living in urban areas (with a population 10,000+) • 72.8 1,864
Aboriginal status
Aboriginal youth 70.0 110
Non-Aboriginal youth • 71.5 2,333
Visible minority status
Visible minority youth 69.6 408
Non-visible-minority youth • 72.8 1,985
Disability status
Youth with disability 70.6 102
Youth without disability • 71.6 2,340
Occupational status
Unemployed youth 47.0*** 83
Students 73.3 505
Employed youth • 72.3 1,846

Note: For living environment, Aboriginal status, visible minority status, disability status, and occupation status, we consider only Canadian youth aged 18 to 34.

Statistically significant differences: *** p<.001; ** p<.01; * p<.05 (reference category: •).

Table 1 further displays self-reported voter turnout in the 2015 federal election for the 11 youth subgroups we focus on in this report. The results first suggest a significant turnout gap between youth living in rural areas (i.e. with a population less than 10,000 inhabitants) and youth living in urban areas (i.e. with a population of 10,000 inhabitants or more). Reported voter turnout of youth living in rural areas is 68%, compared with 72.8% for youth living in more urban areas. This turnout gap is consistent with previous findings from the 2011 federal election (Gélineau 2013). Electoral participation among Aboriginal youth (70%) is lower than participation among non-Aboriginal youth (71.5%), and visible minority youth also vote at a lower rate (69.6%) than non-visible-minority youth (72.8%). However, these differences are not statistically significant, and are much smaller than anticipated. Whereas Bilodeau and Turgeon (2015) reported a voter turnout gap of 16 percentage points between visible minority Canadians and other Canadians in the 2011 federal election, we find a 3-percentage-point difference for the 2015 election. Additionally, while Gélineau (2013) found a 20-percentage-point gap in turnout between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal youth in the context of the 2011 general election, we find only a difference of 1.5 percentage points. The turnout rate of youth without disabilities is only 1 percentage point higher than that of their counterparts with a disability. Consistent with previous research (Jarvis et al. 2005), we observe a substantial turnout gap between unemployed youth (47%) and students (73.3%) and other employed youth (72.3%).

The results reveal that differences in the electoral participation among subgroups of Canadian youth are not as large as expected, and are not systematically consistent with past evidence. This may be potentially explained by the specific context of this general election, and the general increase in turnout. Indeed, the participation in the 2015 general federal election reached 68.3%, the highest level of turnout since the election of 1993.