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

4. Political Resources and Attitudes

The report now presents how the different subgroups of Canadian youth compare in terms of their political resources and attitudes. It is recognized in the literature that individuals who have more knowledge about politics, who are more politically interested, who have more belief in their political competence and politicians' responsiveness, and who think that voting is a duty are more likely to vote in elections (Verba et al. 1995, Delli Carpini and Keeter 1996, Blais 2000, Dalton 2007). Thus, we will focus on youth's interest in politics, in general and more specifically in the last federal election; the sense that voting is a civic duty; levels of satisfaction with Canadian democracy; and the feeling of political competence.Footnote 8 The feeling of political competence refers to youth's belief that they can understand politics and that they have the capabilities to participate in politics and influence current affairs. Youth's perception of political responsiveness refers to young people's belief that politicians and parties are responsive to their interests and political acts. We examine young respondents' levels of general knowledge about politics.Footnote 9 Finally, we also look at how difficult it was for young Canadians to find information about political parties and candidates. The second section of Table 3 compares the political resources and attitudes across subgroups of young Canadians.

First, we note that Aboriginal youth are not less interested by politics or the federal election, but they have lower levels of political knowledge, compared to non-Aboriginal youth. Aboriginal youth tend to feel less politically competent than their non-Aboriginal counterparts, and they also tend to be less positive in their assessment of political institutions. They are, in fact, less satisfied with the way democracy works in Canada and they are less likely to believe that government cares about what they think. These results tend to show that Aboriginal youth are not completely removed from politics, but as other studies have highlighted before, Aboriginal youth present some disengagement vis-à-vis Canadian institutions (Harell et al. 2009).

Visible minority youth are as interested and knowledgeable about politics, but they believe that they are less politically competent and have less positive perceptions of political responsiveness, compared to non-visible-minority youth. However, they are more satisfied with the way that Canadian democracy works. These contrasting attitudes may reflect dynamics related to immigration, political socialization in other national contexts, and processes of political integration in Canada. Visible minority youth also tend to find it harder to find information about political parties and candidates.

When we turn to the comparison of youth based on occupational status, the results highlight a contrast between unemployed and employed youth, while there are only few differences between students and employed youth. Overall, unemployed youth are less interested in politics in general, and they were less interested in the past federal election, and fewer unemployed youth believe that voting is a civic duty. The gap is substantial, as only 33.1% of unemployed youth believe that voting is a civic duty, compared to 51.1% of employed youth. Unemployed Canadians aged 18 to 34 also feel less politically competent and think that politicians are less responsive to their political demands, compared to employed youth. They also have substantially lower levels of political knowledge. Contrary to our expectations, students seem to be slightly less interested in politics, feel less politically competent, and report less ease in finding political information than employed youth.

The results in the second section of Table 3 reveal various substantial differences in the political attitudes and psychological engagement of youth living in rural or more urban areas. Youth aged 18 to 34 years who live in rural areas report lower levels of political interest, lower levels of interest in the 2015 federal election, and lower levels of political knowledge, compared to urban youth. As other youth subgroups, they feel less politically competent and are less inclined to believe that politicians are responsive to their demands, compared to youth who lives in more urban areas.

Youth with disabilities present fewer differences in political attitudes and resources, when compared to youth with no disability. Results from Table 3 suggest that respondents with a disability can be distinguished only in terms of their lower levels of satisfaction with democracy and of perception of political responsiveness. Canadian youth with disabilities are overall less satisfied with Canadian democracy, and they believe that politicians and policy-makers are less responsive towards their demands and political acts, compared to Canadian youth without disabilities.

The second section of Table 3 suggests that the youth subgroups that we focus on for this report display somewhat similar patterns of political resources and political attitudes. Firstly, all youth subgroups (except youth with disabilities) express lower levels of political competence, compared to other Canadian youth: they are more likely to feel politics is too complicated for them to fully understand what is going on. Secondly, they all present less positive attitudes towards Canadian institutions. They are generally less satisfied with Canadian democracy and they are less likely to believe that parties and government respond to their needs and issues important to them. Thirdly, while all youth subgroups are generally less inclined to see voting as a civic duty, only unemployed youth are significantly less likely to see voting as a duty. In terms of political resources, all youth subgroups show similarly lower levels of political knowledge, but most specifically Aboriginal youth, the unemployed, and youth living in rural areas. Alternatively, only unemployed and rural youth (and students, to a certain extent) display lower levels of interest. As these resource and attitudinal factors are known to be core factors in the explanation of electoral participation, we will further test for their importance in the multivariate model.