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

5. Social and Political Mobilization

The National Youth Survey allows us to examine the importance of mobilization for electoral behaviour. The literature has shown that "being asked" to participate may prove to be an important factor in the decision to be politically involved (Rosenstone and Hansen 1993, Verba et al. 1995). Citizens may be encouraged to vote by members of their personal networks and by political parties. Studies have found that being contacted by political parties and candidates may be a powerful way to get out the vote (Huckfeldt and Sprague 1992). However, there is evidence that social mobilization varies across social groups and that political parties do not reach out to all groups of citizens equally (Gray and Caul 2000). In this section, we consider if and how often youth were mobilized to vote by their broader social network, teachers, news media, and social and community organizations.Footnote 10 We also consider campaign efforts by political parties before the 2015 federal election.Footnote 11

Table 4 presents the rates of social and political mobilization experienced by the different youth subgroups in the context of the 2015 federal election.Footnote 12 The results reveal that Aboriginal youth, visible minority youth, and students were substantially more encouraged to vote by their personal networks and organizations, than non-Aboriginal and non-visible minority youth, unemployed and employed youth. And if we further take into account the mobilization of group-specific organizations (i.e. Aboriginal organizations for Aboriginal youth, cultural or ethnic groups for visible minority youth, student organizations for students, and organizations representing people with disabilities for youth with disabilities), the gaps in mobilization become even larger between the youth subgroups (and remain statistically significant). This indicates that group-specific organizations play a role in the mobilization of their young members, but that they are not the only ones to encourage youth to vote.

The results do not reveal substantial differences in the campaign efforts by political parties for the different youth groups. However, fewer students reported having been contacted by a political party (25.1% of students), compared to employed youth (30.9% reported being contacted). Similarly, youth living in a rural area were also less likely to have been contacted by a political party in the last federal election. Of youth living in a rural area, 25.1% indicated that a politician or a political party had contacted them during the campaign, compared to 31.1% of youth living in more urban areas.

The results show that different groups of Canadian youth experience diverse patterns of mobilization during elections. First, organizations and social networks appear to be important sources of mobilization for Aboriginal youth, visible minority youth, and students, which confirms prior findings about the importance of Aboriginal organizations and student associations in getting out the youth vote (Harell et al. 2009, Abacus 2016). However, it would appear that unemployed youth are much less likely to be encouraged to vote, which may be in part explained by the fact they are not integrated in a work environment or an institution of education. Finally, youth did not report high contact rates with political parties and candidates (i.e. in all subgroups, not more than 31.1% of youth reported being contacted by a party), and youth who were unemployed and those who live in rural areas were much less likely to be contacted.

Table 4: Mobilization and Party Contact for the Different Youth Subgroups
(mean 07)
Party contact
Minimum sample size
Aboriginal status Aboriginal 3.6** 29.1 109
Non-Aboriginal  3.0 29.6 2342
Visible minority status Visible minority 3.4*** 31.3 498
Non-vis.-min.  3.0 29.8 1990
Occupational status Unemployed 2.5* 29.3 81
Student 3.5*** 25.1* 516
Employed  3.0 30.9 1846
Living environment Rural 3.0 25.1* 547
Urban  3.1 31.1 1873
Disability status With disability 3.4 30.7 104
No disability  3.1 29.3 2346

Note: Canadian youth aged 18 to 34.

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

It is generally recognized that political parties focus their mobilization efforts on habitual voters, who are not the young citizens. In fact, we find that Canadians aged 18 to 34 years old were much less likely to be contacted by parties (29.5%) than Canadians aged 35 or more (59%), and this 30-percentage-point difference is statistically significant. However, the results showed that certain subgroups are even less likely to be encouraged to vote by political parties.