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What Parties do to Engage and Mobilize Youth: A Literature Review of Five Countries

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3.0 Comparing Jurisdictions: Party Outreach Directed at Youth

Having reviewed relevant academic research on engagement and mobilization between parties and young people, this section examines outreach strategies targeted at young electors in Canada and other jurisdictions, including the US, UK, New Zealand and Finland at the national level.Footnote 28

The international case studies were selected based on a review of the English-language literature on the outreach strategies of political parties in advanced democracies.Footnote 29 Cases were chosen based on whether they illuminated a notable or innovative practice in terms of engagement or mobilization relevant to the Canadian context. Each case begins with a brief overview of participation rates and then proceeds to examine key findings on engagement (party membership, non-member outreach, and policy development) and mobilization. Although the literature does not permit an equal treatment of each area across each case, gaps in the literature are duly noted.

3.1 Canada

Like many advanced democracies, Canada has experienced a decline in youth political participation over the last few decades. In the most recent federal election in May 2011, only 38.8% of Canadians aged 18 to 24 and 45.1% of 25- to 34-year-olds voted, which put them well below the national average of 60% (Mayrand 2012).


Membership Engagement

Most federal parties in Canada grant memberships to those below the voting age and non-citizens (Cross 2004, 19).Footnote 30 Thus, parties are able to formally engage youth in party affairs before they can vote, with membership in some parties extended to youth as young as 14 years old. In the 1970s and 1980s, the three parties (the Liberal Party of Canada, the Progressive Conservatives, and the New Democratic Party [NDP]) supported efforts to increase the participation rates of women, youth and new Canadians by creating internal chapters dedicated to each demographic (Cross 2004, 22). During this period, a review of the formal status accorded to youth wings and their presence at major party conventions argued that over-representation of youth was a concern – youth were in fact distorting parties' internal democratic processes (Perlin, Sutherland and Desjardins 1988). As Cross and Young observe, since the late 1980s youth organizations in Canadian parties have changed substantially as part of a shift toward a less group-oriented and more individualist approach to party organization (Cross and Young 2002).

At present, the constitutions of both the NDP and the Liberal Party still ensure institutionalized representation from youth chapters on their national executives. In contrast, the Conservative Party did not adopt differentiated membership following the merger of the Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservative parties. This, according to Cross, came out of a conviction that a youth chapter conflicts with a populist foundation (Cross 2004, 23). Youth chapters from all the parties are also present at many colleges and universities throughout Canada. A comprehensive update of Perlin, Sutherland and Desjarins' (1988) study would be valuable, as it is not clear what influence youth voices yield inside parties today, although it is likely less than that observed in 1988.

Overall, in Canada as well as other advanced democracies, party membership numbers are in decline. In particular, young Canadians are less likely to join compared with their counterparts in their parents' or grandparents' generation (Cross and Young 2007; Dalton and Wattenberg 2000). In 2000, only 3% of party members were 25 years or younger (Cross and Young 2004).Footnote 31 A survey of young party members suggests that those who do join are "unusually privileged both in their exposure to politics and in their socio-economic background" compared with the youth cohort at large, and were likely recruited into party membership by a parent more so than older members (Young and Cross 2007, 1).

The absence of party membership renewal and declining partisanship brings into question the capacity of parties to recruit and engage members, particularly between elections. Indeed, a party's membership increases two or three times during a leadership contest or election and subsequently dwindles between election years.Footnote 32 Moreover, Cross (2004) argues that even the most committed partisans are not very active in party affairs between elections.Footnote 33 It is not clear in the literature to what extent electoral district associations (EDAs) attempt to create and maintain engagement among local members. Further, it is not clear how EDAs have the capacity to handle burgeoning memberships during candidate nominations and elections. This non-election year atrophy does not lend itself to continual engagement.

Canadian parties are also failing to connect the efforts of their grassroots volunteers with their central party campaign activities (Cross 2004, 12). Instead of engaging volunteers in the actions of the central party (especially policy development), volunteers are left on the periphery and tapped into only for annual conventions and elections. O'Cass finds that recent advances in political marketing and campaigning are not being used to encourage "a constructive dialogue for both specific and broader goals" (2009, 198).

Non-Member Engagement

Non-member engagement includes general efforts where the party opens more broadly to the public. Given that members' engagement between election years is dismal, one would expect that non-member engagement suffers a similar fate, although there is limited academic attention directed toward this area. In Canadian political parties, interested citizens must approach and attend a party event (i.e. a convention, riding meeting, etc.). To reiterate Rosenstone and Hansen's earlier point, Canadian political parties are not "going to young citizens," but rather youth must go to them. The supporter membership category initiated in 2012 by the Liberal Party of Canada provides a novel direction in terms of engagement not focused exclusively on members. It not clear how this will impact youth participation – both in terms of recruiting youth to party politics and for the youth who are already Liberal Party members.

Policy Development

The literature suggests that Canada's major parties typically spend little time on policy study and development. Scholars argue a heightened period of party competition has pushed parties into continual campaign mode. As a consequence, party research in the Canadian context is more often used to inform decisions surrounding image positioning rather than for policy development (Marland 2012, 34). This effect is compounded since electoral success strategies dominate opposition parties' agendas (Cross 2004, 12).Footnote 34 Cross and Young (2006) come to the conclusion that Canadian parties are "empty vessels" since they place the highest emphasis on electoral competition and do not allow for meaningful membership engagement in policy development. Perhaps as a result, nine in ten members of all five partiesFootnote 35 agree that their party should do more to encourage local associations to discuss matters of public policy (Cross 2004, 28).


The National Youth Survey of 2011 found that before the May 2011 federal election, approximately 40% of surveyed youth had been directly contacted by a political candidate or party. Further, those who were contacted voted at a higher rate: 83% of those contacted voted compared with 68% of those who were not contacted.Footnote 36 However, fewer youth in all subgroups, particularly Aboriginal youth (27%) and unemployed youth (28%), said they had been directly contacted when compared with the general population of youth (40%). Thus, it appears the mobilization efforts can be and are successful in increasing youth turnout, but Canadian parties' mobilization efforts are not equally distributed.

Recently, parties have segmented the electorate into voter types to allow for precise targeting (Flanagan 2009; 2014).  For example, two young voter profiles used by Conservative Party strategists are "Dougie" and "Zoe".  "Dougie" is a single man in his late 20s who enjoys hunting and could be persudaded to vote Conservative, while "Zoe" is a single urban female who lives downtown, eats organic food and will never vote Conservative (Delacourt 2013).Footnote 37 The Conservative Party has been the quickest to adopt hyper-segmentation and micro-targeting strategies. The Conservatives have used precise targeting to divert resources away from safe ridings toward those with the highest electoral pay-off, a strategy described as "simply pragmatism forced by competitive necessity" (Marland 2012, 64).Footnote 38 These micro-targeting strategies guide GOTV tactics, and local door-knocking efforts have provided constituency campaigns with highly targeted "walk routes" (Marland 2012, 86).

Inevitably, not all regions, ridings or groups are targeted. Bastedo (2013) argues that appealing to youth could be seen as politically risky to strategists. By catering to a potentially volatile segment of the population, parties may alienate or turn off more stable (older) supporters who otherwise can be counted on to vote. Consequently, Turcotte (2007) suggests this electoral divisiveness may be one reason for youth's lower turnout since they are rarely, if ever, targeted (Bastedo 2013; Marland 2012).

3.2 United StatesFootnote 39

Over the last several decades, the US has also experienced a decline in youth voter turnout. However, data show that youth voter turnout has increased since 1996 (37%). In 2012, 50% of young people cast a ballot, compared with 52% of eligible voters in 2008, which still lags behind turnout of those over 30 years old (CIRCLE Staff 2012, 1).


Member/Non-Member Engagement

Given the unique characteristics of US elections, party membership requirements are less restrictive than those in Canada or the UK. As a result, the boundaries between membership engagement and non-member outreach are ambiguous and thus reviewed together in the case of the US.

Observers have commented that the Democrats have been more focused on reaching the youth demographic while the Republicans have done comparably less to court the youth vote. Youth outreach strategies occur at both the national and local levels of the party structure. Shea and Green (2004) argue the local party committees offer the greatest potential to engage youth since they are the best facilitators of personal contact.

The Democratic Party has an official student outreach chapter, the College of Democrats of America (CDA), which is responsible for mobilizing campuses, training activists and providing a youth voice within the national party (Shea and Green 2004, 11).

The Democratic National Committee's (DNC) Youth Coordinating Council was made an official council of the committee in December 2005 to increase the involvement of young people in the Democratic Party.Footnote 40 The goals of the DNC Youth Council are to ensure the Democratic Party maintains a majority of the youth vote; to increase involvement of young people in the inner workings of the DNC; and to get more young people placed on key DNC committees.

The Obama for America campaign also included a fundraising program staffed by young adults, Gen44, which aimed to maintain the passion of young Americans and "[help] them engage their networks and colleagues to support the President and the Democratic Party" (Gen44 2012). Gen44 was active in both the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections.

Shea and Green (2004, 11) interviewed members of the DNC staff and concluded that youth participation is a key part of the party's long-term strategy. Stephanie H. Sanchez, the executive director of the College Democrats of America and advisor to the DNC on youth outreach in 2004, stated "... young folks, especially students, are very important to the DNC because we believe the Democratic Party is on track with the issues that are important to this age group."

The DNC and CDA also facilitate voter registration programs such as "Every Vote Counts" and "Youth to Booth." Voter registration drives also figured in the DNC's "Something New" initiative, which, according to Sanchez, sought to "create an educated and registered army of young, new voters" (Shea and Green 2007, 12). Something New events, which catered to youth aged 18 to 35, included voter registration drives, town hall meetings, and events at local "hotspots." In 2003, one such event attracted 4,500 participants.

To date, the majority of youth outreach initiatives have focused on maximizing online media. The Democratic Party's goal is to bring young voters into Democratic politics by reaching them online (Shea and Green 2004). In the 2008 campaign, the Democrat's presidential candidate Barack Obama had an e-mail list of 13 million individuals (not exclusively youth) who were sent newsletters and campaign updates, and solicited for donations (Milner 2010).

The Democratic Party leverages the social networks of its young supporters and encourages them to reach out to their peers. This social encouragement takes place online or face-to-face. Online "Meetups" were pioneered by, a liberal online grassroots organization that enables virtual volunteers to share information and thoughts about the campaign online through blogs and comments. This model was initially employed by Howard Dean's presidential campaign in 2004 to increase interest in the campaign, but also to raise money and recruit an army of volunteers. Semiatin (2013, 91) suggests well-designed Meetups enable campaigns to generate volunteers who are willing to do the footwork for voter contact and mobilization. Building off the success of these Meetups, the DNC also encourages youth to sign up as "eCaptains." These eCaptains are responsible for building and sustaining an online team of party activists who support campaign efforts.

Policy Development

Policy development at the grassroots level is not the main focus for either the Democratic or Republican parties. It appears to be a secondary concern. One of the main objectives of the Youth Council, however, is to place youth onto DNC committees in order to discuss issues and policies.


The majority of mobilization tactics are developed in the US, which has been the main focus of the academic literature. It appears most countries are playing catch-up with the level of mobilization sophistication in US campaigns. The new age of voter mobilization strategy is vested in merging consumer or lifestyle data with traditional targeting models. One example of this application is in Mitt Romney's 2003 Massachusetts governor campaign. Romney's campaign analysts found that those most susceptible to Romney's appeals were very likely to be premium cable TV subscribers. Consequently, instead of sending literature to the entire electorate, the campaign sent brochures to every premium subscriber using the cable company's database (Issenberg 2012). The process of micro-targeting uses multiple points of voter contact and multiple methods to get voters to the polls (Semiatin 2013, 87).Footnote 41

Nickerson (2006, 48) found that party mobilization and outreach largely ignore young people in the US. Shea and Green (2007) asked local party leaders if they have specific GOTV programs for young votersFootnote 42 – only 41% of respondents said yes. A follow-up question asked them to describe their program. Most of these programs were dubbed "modest" or "traditional," such as a speaking event at a local school or a table at a local fair. Only a small number of leaders stated significant activities. Even more startling is that many respondents could not describe the programs (Shea and Green 2007, 7).

Nickerson's research showed that youth are less frequently contacted than their older counterparts. In New Haven and Boston, the odds of being contacted by a phone campaign were lower for 18- to 24-year-olds (19% in New Haven and 11% in Boston) and rapidly increased among older age groups. The odds of a 70-year-old being spoken to by a party were three times that of a 20-year-old (Nickerson 2006, 58).

Youth-targeted mobilization strategies were in use before Barack Obama's 2008 campaign, but this campaign provides the best example of youth-directed initiatives. Green and Coffey (2011, 144) noted Obama's ground troops were mostly young, new activists and are likely less inclined to merge their efforts with the party establishment. The local grassroots development appealed to youth:

They have invested in a civic infrastructure on a scale that has never happened. It's been an investment in the development of thousands of young people equipped with the skills and leadership ability to mobilize people and in the development of leadership at the local level ( 2008).

The CDA facilitates a program, "Campaign Invasion," in which college students go door-to-door to talk to potential young voters in swing states and swing districts. The party relied on cell phones to reach hard-to-contact segments of the population, including youth and minorities (Delany 2009). On election day in 2008, everyone who signed up for alerts in highly competitive states received three text reminders to vote.

Some three million calls were made during the final days of the race using the virtual phone bank of the multi-functional online tool, MyBO, which provided a "conduit for supporter energy and a launchpad for supporter activism" (Delany 2009). Volunteers used MyBO to organize events, run fundraising campaigns and recruit friends. Gibson (2013) argues this site fostered a new form of "citizen-initiated campaigning" (CIC), a practice where digitally registered supporters who are not necessarily members make use of online tools created by the party or candidate to campaign both online and offline on the party's or candidate's behalf.

Five million people, mostly young, signed up as supporters of Obama on social networking sites. This support materialized in an "I voted" button on election day (Green and Coffey 2011, 143).

While the Democrats enjoy the largest number of youth supporters for a variety of reasons, youth-focused outreach strategies have likely played an important role. In 2012, 45% of non-college youth identified as Democrats, while 27% identified with the Republican party and 28% as independent or something else (CIRCLE Staff 2012, 6).

3.3 United Kingdom

In many ways, the state of political engagement in the UK closely parallels that of Canada. In the most recent 2010 parliamentary election, national voter turnout was 65% (International IDEA) and youth turnout (18–24 years) was 44% – well below the national average (Ipsos MORI 2010). However, this was up slightly from 2001 and 2005, where turnout was 39% and 37%, respectively, but still much lower than the 68% youth voter turnout recorded in 1987.


Membership Engagement

Like Canada, weaker commitments among youth to political parties in the UK compared with older age groups have been documented (Clarke et al. 2004; Tilley 2003); youth are also less likely to be party members (Sloam 2007; Whiteley and Seyd 2002). Bruter and Harrison observe that citizens aged 60 or more make up only 24% of the total UK population, but comprise 61% of party members (2009, 10). Most national UK political partiesFootnote 43 maintain youth wings, although the age ranges and their structures differ; most automatically enrol eligible new members into youth wings.

However, youth wings, which were once very large and vibrant in post-Second World War years, suffered a period of decline punctuated with conflicts between more extremist elements of the wings and central party hierarchies. Kimberlee (2002), who documents this history briefly, notes that both Labour and the Conservatives terminated a part of their youth wing due to affiliation with more militant activity or extremist views.Footnote 44 Perhaps fearing a re-occurrence, parties moved to minimize this risk by reducing the influence of youth wings.

The declining popularity of the Young Conservatives and the extremist views of members of the party's student federation led the Conservatives to re-launch their youth movement in the 1990s (Russell 2005, 565). This saw the merger of three youth wings, the Young Conservatives, Conservative Students and Conservative Graduates, into Conservative Future. Russell (2005) observes that Conservative Future members do not seem to be treated any differently from ordinary party members during campaign periods and seem to lack formal power.

Berry (2008) looks closely at the Labour Party's youth sections, which remain divided between Young Labour and Labour Students. He observes that Young Labour is "chronically under-resourced and over-centralised" (366), and interviews with youth members reveal a sense of disempowerment. Although there are youth representatives on the National Policy Forum of the Labour Party, they are selected by the party as a whole at an annual conference, and not by young members specifically. Two reform camps have emerged to address the lack of control or access to the national structure (Berry 2008). The first calls for greater democratization (allowing youth to vote for their own representatives); the second desires more localization (to enhance local networks).

Russell (2005) calls the Liberal Democratic Party a leader for the privileged place accorded to the Liberal Democratic Youth and Students (LDYS) within the party, which translates into greater influence, resources and expertise for the LDYS. Only one other subgroup, the Association of Liberal Democratic Councillors, shares as much influence. Russell (2005) suspects the Liberal Democrats' position as a third party has a role to play: they have had less to lose or risk by giving the LDYS heavy representation in the party structure.

The LDYS includes both youth and students, though numbers skew toward students. An interview with one LDYS member suggests that the party provides political organizing training for the LDYS executive, which in turn is tasked with travelling around the UK to "[keep] people enthused" (Russell 2005, 567). Furthermore, every local executive is expected to have a member 26 years of age or younger on its committee, which ties the local parties to youth wings (Russell 2005).

Non-Member Engagement

There is little academic literature on how young people relate to parties as a vehicle to contribute to politics (Berry 2008). A 2011 survey among 18-year-olds eligible to vote for the first time in the UK 2010 parliamentary election asked, "How effective do you think being a member of a political party is for influencing government?" Interestingly, Henn and Foard (2011) note that the data reveal that youth (most of whom are non-members) see party membership as effective. A plurality of 46% agreed that it would be effective, while 37% believed it would not be effective and 17% were unsure. However, most youth still feel parties are closed to them: 61% agreed that "there aren't enough opportunities for young people like me to influence political parties," compared with only 7% who disagreed.

Mycock and Tonge (2012) observe that the disconnection between youth and politics has led to initiatives to improve youth citizenship, wherein the role of parties is conspicuously absent. Under Tony Blair, the Labour government introduced mandatory citizenship education in school curriculums; under Gordon Brown, the Labour government initiated the Youth Citizenship Commission (YCC) to explore lowering the voting age and "youth-proofing" legislation; and under David Cameron, the Conservative–Liberal Democratic coalition government launched the National Citizen Service that focuses on community rather than political activism.

There has been no concerted national conversation about the responsibility of parties or need for reform in these initiatives, which may be contributing to the "significant disconnection between young people and political parties" (Mycock and Tonge 2012 1, 143). The YCCFootnote 45 represented a missed opportunity, as it did not consider how parties could restructure their internal arrangements to give young members a greater voice in day-to-day operation or policy formation. Nor did parliamentarians or political parties engage with the YCC when offered the opportunity (Tonge and Mycock 2009).

An open-ended question on the aforementioned 2011 survey asked young people what might be done to reverse their distrust and antipathy toward political parties and politicians. The study notes that their responses confirm a belief that parties should do more to directly connect with young people.Footnote 46 However, Henn and Foard (2011, 16) do not offer specific advice as to how parties can change beyond calling for "serious public relations work."

Policy Development

The limitations that were imposed on the youth wings of the Labour and Conservative parties were noted above. According to Kimberlee, "After every challenge, young people's ability to affect policy and influence party debate was either curtailed or undermined, leaving successive generations of young people with less opportunity to influence debate within political parties" (2002, 89).

Notably, Mycock and Tonge (2011) observe that both the Conservative Party and Liberal Democratic Party did issue separate youth policy papers during the 2010 election, although it is not clear if (or how) youth were involved in their generation. The content was deemed "eclectic," ranging from tackling homophobic bullying and youth training and employment, as well as non-youth-specific policies like high-speed rail and broadband networks. No details discussed if young voters were aware of these parties' initiatives.


Gibson (2013) considers whether UK parties, during the 2010 election, borrowed the pioneering CIC strategies of American political parties, such as the MyBo platform outlined in the US case study of this review. She finds ample evidence that the three major parties, as well as two minor parties,Footnote 47 had invested in websites for members and non-members to help the party in its campaign efforts offline and online. These included MyConservatives (MyCons), Labour's Membersnet (Mnet) and LibDemAct (LDA) – with sign-up open to party members and non-members.Footnote 48

Gibson notes that parties seemed to be very interested in using supporters to contact voters on behalf of the party, with use of a virtual phone bank and tools for supporters to distribute party messages. However, the sites made less use of supporters to help generate revenue and new members online. Gibson notes that it is difficult to discern the impact of CIC within the electorate, as well as the number of people assisting parties with their mobilization efforts via the online enabling sites. The 2005 and 2010 British election studies (BES) showed no marked increase in overall party contact reported by voters, and reported online contact was very low at 1.5% of the electorate (Gibson 2013). However, BES data revealed increased contact by friends or family on behalf of a party, growing to 17% in 2010 from only 2% in 2001. A survey of online engagement during the campaign suggests that approximately 1.5 million voters were accessing these online campaign tools, although use by age cohorts was not reported. It is also not clear, nor did Gibson consider, whether the emergence of CIC had any relation to the small increase in youth voter turnout in the 2010 election, or whether the platforms were being maintained and/or adapted for between election periods.

3.4 New Zealand

Historically, New Zealand has held an enviable record of voter turnout during national elections, with rates consistently high, often above 90%, before 1984. Since the 1980s, turnout has been declining, reaching a new low of 74% in 2011 (International IDEA). Youth remain over-represented among non-voters. Approximately 22% of 18- to 26-year-olds did not vote in the 2008 general election compared with 7.5% of all other age demographics (Curtin 2010, 561). New Zealand presents a worthwhile case to consider given the recent shift from the first-past-the-post electoral system (last used in the 1993 national election) to a proportional representation (PR) electoral systemFootnote 49 (first used in the 1996 election), which was expected to change party behaviour. In principle, parties should expend more effort mobilizing voters when the extra votes are likely to turn into seats for the party (Cox 1999; Vowles 2004), although this does not seem to have been the case.


Party Membership

Miller (2005) describes the 1960s and 1970s as a period when youth were highly visible and vocal participants in the organizations of major parties. This era was also characterized by "small armies of volunteers urging voters to attend campaign meetings and cast a vote" (2005, 172). Like other Western democracies, party membership numbers have fallen from 22% among the adult population to less than 5% more recently (Vowles 2004, 5). Parties are also dominated by older members. According to the New Zealand Election Study (NZES), 18- to 29-year-olds comprise less than 4% of all party members (NZES 2002).

Non-Party Membership

Miller (2005) argues that party membership has now declined to a point where some parties no longer have the numbers to engage locally during campaigns, let alone outside of an election period. Use of social media has also increased by political actors, according to Marret (2010). It is assumed that social media provides better access to youth since their use of social networking sites is greater than for older generations, yet little attention has been dedicated to measuring its impact on political engagement among youth in New Zealand – particularly for youth who would not otherwise participate or have limited interest in politics.

Policy Development

No detailed literature for this type of engagement was located.


Under PR electoral systems, party contact is assumed to be more effective for two main reasons. First, parties are incentivized to mobilize everywhere, regardless of how competitive they are in specific regions or areas. Second, it may take less effort to convince non-voters or intermittent voters to cast a ballot because of a sense that votes are not wasted, thereby enhancing voters' sense of their own political efficacy (Banducci, Donovan and Karp 1999; Vowles 2004).

However, research following the 2002 election found that party mobilization activities did not increase under PR. In 1993, the NZES found that about 25% of the electorate had some contact with a political party, either by a personal visit or phone call. In comparison, this dropped to 7% in the 2002 NZES despite the increased number of parties competing for seats under the new electoral system (Vowels 2004, 107). This gap also applied to voters aged 18 to 29, for whom reported contact fell from 17% to 3% between 1993 and 2002 (Ibid., 107). The drop in reported contact may have been tied to the overall decline in voter turnout in 2002, although this does not seem to have been explored.

Parties in both elections remained more likely to contact their own partisan supporters, rather than reach out to undecided voters or other partisans. Consistent with mobilization trends internationally, parties were also more likely to contact those who had previously voted (compared with non-voters) (Ibid., 110). This pattern again puts New Zealand youth, who vote at a rate lower than older cohorts and have weaker party identification, at a disadvantage.

However, as of 2002, the Alliance and Green parties managed to attract higher votes among the youngest voters than their average turnout levels, and there is evidence to suggest that the Greens were particularly effective at mobilizing their young supporters (Ibid., 97). No literature describes their approach, though Miller notes that the Greens have been early adopters of Internet-based engagement (2005, 178) and have strived to employ interactive tools (Rudd and Hayward 2006, 334). Overall, Miller (2005) describes parties' campaigns as centralized, and having shifted away from the local campaign to concentrate on the nationwide campaign in New Zealand.

Mobilization literature on the most recent 2011 national election was not found, although it is noteworthy that New Zealand had its lowest turnout since the PR system was adopted.

3.5 Finland

In the 2011 parliamentary elections, general voter turnout was 67%. In the 2012 presidential elections turnout was 68%, down from 74% in 2006 (International IDEA 2012). In Finland, there are no estimates of turnout for youth in national elections. However, at the municipal level, a study by Martikainen and Wass (2004, 29) found that between 41% and 51% of young people voted in Helsinki in 2004.Footnote 50

Aside from how candidates and political parties engage and mobilize, the literature suggests the general Finnish political culture facilitates youth participation. The 2006 Youth Act made youth participation and the right of young people to be heard in the municipalities a legal obligation. Section 8 of the Act states "The opportunity to participate in the handling of issues relating to local and regional youth work and policy must be provided for young people. Additionally, young people must be heard during the handling of issues concerning them" (Feldmann-Wojtachnia et al. 2010, 20).


Party Member Engagement

In Finland, 47% of party members are 60 or older, although they comprise only 25% of the general population (Bruter and Harrison 2009). However, youth political organizations are a significant part of the Finnish political system. In Finland, every party in parliament has a designated youth chapter. Finnish political parties view their own youth organizations as important for the whole party since they offer a consistent opportunity of renewal and many receive financial support from the mother parties (Falck 2007). While political parties compete electorally for power, many political party youth organizations work together to increase representation of youth in decision-making channels; for example, student financial aid is an interest area all parties claim to work together on.

Non-Member Engagement

While member engagement appears to be sustained and significant during non-election years, most youth do not belong to political parties in Finland. Using 2002–04 survey data, 7% of the Finnish population belongs to a political party. The literature consulted for this review did not explicitly mention non-member engagement initiatives. However, similar to other democracies youth appear to be most active in interest groups (Falck 2007, 13).

Policy Development

Many political parties consider policy development as a clearly defined area where youth must be given the opportunity to participate (Feldmann-Wojtachnia et al. 2010, 21). While youth organizations have their own local branches and districts, in some parties young people are also in decision-making positions of the local party associations. The mechanisms for including youth wings in the policy and decision-making process vary across parties: for the Social Democrats, representatives from the Social Democratic Youth are included in working groups (i.e. committees); for the Green League, the Federation of Green Youth and Students are permitted to speak and be present at party management board meetings; for the Left Alliance, the Left Youth are allowed to put forward motions to the party; and for the Christian Democrats, the Christian Democratic Youth are officially represented as one of three deputy chairpersons of the party (Falck 2007, 11).


Finnish political parties rely heavily on their youth organizations for mobilization efforts. They raise youth issues in electoral debates, encourage young people to vote, and assist and train young candidates (Falck 2007, 12). In the Finnish system, the youth organizations maintain a strong sense of engagement, which allows for mobilization to become one part of the larger agenda rather than the entire objective.

Footnote 28 See Appendix 2 for a table that compares basic features across the countries included as case studies in this review.

Footnote 29 As a result, there may be relevant academic literature in other languages not considered in the case study analysis.

Footnote 30 Usually in the UK and the US, the only requirement to join a party is a small payment and membership form. In 2012, the Liberal Party of Canada created a "party supporter" which waives the typical membership fee while allowing supporters to vote in leadership contests. This addition is extremely new to the Canadian party context and thus its effects have not been studied.

Footnote 31 A study conducted by the Institute for Research on Public Policy found that only 1 in 20 Canadians aged between 18 and 30 has ever belonged to a political party (either federal or provincial compared with one third of those over age 60 (Howe and Northrup 2000).

Footnote 32 A survey question asking why members joined a party found that supporting a leadership contestant is the number one reason.

Footnote 33 Both the NDP and the former Canadian Alliance presented themselves as parties driven by grassroots initiatives with mass-membership bases. Yet at the time of his research, Cross (2004, 26) found both parties to be very inactive with relatively few members spending any time on party activity in the average month.

Footnote 34 While parties' main focus is electoral success, Cross argues that policy development coincides with parties' objectives and therefore should not be neglected.

Footnote 35 The five parties referenced here refer to those in the House of Commons at the time of Cross' analysis in 2004. They were the Liberal Party of Canada, the Conservative Party of Canada, the New Democratic Party of Canada, the Bloc Québecois and the Green Party of Canada.

Footnote 36 Similarly, a study conducted by Karp, Banducci and Bowler (2007) analyzing the effect of party contact on voter turnout using a statistical model found that contact has an important positive impact. Drawing upon data from the 2000 Canadian Election Study, the authors estimate that turnout would have increased by 2 percentage points had everyone eligible to vote been contacted. Conversely, it would have declined by 1 percentage point had no one been contacted.

Footnote 37No other voter profiles that are used by other political parties were found in the literature review.

Footnote 38 According to Marland et al. (2012), the result was that out of 23 million eligible voters, the Conservative strategy was able to focus on a pool of about 500,000 voters, which made the difference between victory and defeat. In this highly focused mobilization strategy, inclusive nationwide campaign tactics were replaced by nightly tracking in winnable ridings and among key groups only.

Footnote 39 There are two distinct peculiarities about the US system that may account for the intensity of its engagement and mobilization efforts compared with other countries. First, American politics, by the standards of anywhere else in the world, are highly expensive (Malbin and Cain 2007, 4). Second, parties are in a "constant campaign" mode due to the length and relative frequency of electoral competitions. As noted above, candidates and campaign strategies also played a role in targeting youth voters in the 2008 and 2012 US presidential elections, perhaps in part responding to these systemic pressures.

Footnote 40 The membership of the Youth Council consists of all DNC members under age 36, as well as 12 at-large members selected from each of the DNC's four regions (East, Midwest, South and West).

Footnote 41 Points of contact include the frequency of contact while methods of contact are either phone, direct mail or face-to-face.

Footnote 42 This study was conducted in 2003 and included 805 local party leaders, randomly selected across the US over the telephone.

Footnote 43 This case study centres on UK-wide political parties (i.e. compared with more regional parties such as the Scottish National Party) with substantial representation at Westminster (i.e. those that hold more than 1% of seats). This includes the Conservative Party, the Labour Party and the Liberal Democratic Party.

Footnote 44 Labour shuttered the Young Socialists for being too closely linked to the Militant Tendency. The Conservatives were forced to close the Federation of Conservative Students in the 1980s due to vocal extremists. The Liberal Party (precursor to the Liberal Democrats) also dealt with youth who regularly and publicly challenged the party hierarchy. See Kimberlee (2002).

Footnote 45 The YCC was created in response to the July 2007 publication of the Governance of Britain Green Paper ( Thirteen independent commissioners, headed by chair Professor Jonathon Tonge, oversaw the commission. Among the commissioners were three youth participants. The commission was asked to examine how young people define citizenship; to explore how that citizenship might better be connected to political activity; and to lead a consultation about lowering the voting age to 16 years. See Tonge and Mycock 2010 for a full description. The YCC's final report is available at: The UK government's response is available at:

Footnote 46 See Appendix 3 for the results to the 2011 survey question "What do you think the political parties could do to better connect with young people?," conducted by Henn and Foard, 2011.

Footnote 47 These are the Scottish Nationalist Party and the British National Party, in addition to the major parties (Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats). This case will focus on the experience of the latter group. Gibson notes that the large parties had invested more resources into their multi-functional sites (2013, 7).

Footnote 48 Gibson's analysis compares the performance of party websites on a CIC index that measured activities in four areas: community building, resource generation, getting out the vote, and message dissemination/production. The Liberal Democrats scored the highest. See Gibson (2013) for a full review.

Footnote 49 Technically, New Zealand adopted a mixed-member proportional representation system (MMP) – a variant of a proportional representation. However, the literature consulted for this review generally referred to the electoral system as "proportional representation" or "PR," which is used in this literature review. See Miller (2005) and Vowles (2002; 2004).

Footnote 50 The proportion of candidates in the municipal elections who were younger than 30 was 10.7% (Feldmann-Wojtachnia et al. 2010, 12).