Elections Canada commissioned the first National Youth Survey (NYS) in May 2011 following the federal general election. The first large-scale study of its kind, the NYS provided detailed information on the motivational and access barriers that Canadian youth and different youth subgroups experience that prevent them from voting. The results of the survey were subsequently used by Elections Canada to target and tailor its outreach activities and educational initiatives. Understanding barriers to voting is essential for both Elections Canada and youth-serving organizations to be able to effectively reach out to youth and provide them with the information they need on where, when and the different ways to vote.
The NYS was repeated after the October 2015 federal general election as part of Elections Canada’s ongoing efforts to understand how the barriers to voting are evolving, including the relative significance of access versus motivational barriers, and to ensure that the agency is equipped with evidence-based research to inform its outreach activities… Continue reading »
As is generally the case for surveys, self-reported turnout was high: 70% of youth and 91% of older adults surveyed said they had voted in the 42nd general election. Among both youth and older adults who voted, about one quarter voted at the advance polls, and most of the remainder did so on election day. Use of the online voter registration service was more than twice as high among youth than among older adults (28% vs. 12%).
Youth were less likely to say they received a voter information card (VIC) – 76% of youth reported receiving a VIC, compared to 94% of older adults. Fewer Aboriginal youth (66%), unemployed youth (67%) and youth aged 18 to 22 (69%) reported receiving one.
Youth were less aware of the ways to vote other than at the polling station on election day. Only 34% of youth were aware of the option of voting at the advance polls, compared to 65% of older adults.
Finding out when and where to vote did not constitute barriers for most youth. Finding information on how to register to vote, however, was difficult for some – only 8% of youth overall, but 19% of Aboriginal youth and 13% of youth with a disability, found it difficult.
The vast majority of youth at least somewhat agreed that voting was easy and convenient (84%), although they were less likely than older adults to strongly agree. Aboriginal youth were the most likely to disagree (19% vs. 11% of youth overall).
Getting to the polling station was reportedly somewhat or very easy for nearly all voters of any age. Non-voters, however, were more likely to perceive it as difficult: roughly one in five non-voters thought that it would have been at least somewhat difficult to get to their voting location.
Proving identity and address was easy for the vast majority of youth and older voters, but 9% of Aboriginal youth and 12% of youth with a disability who voted found it difficult. Among those who indicated that it was difficult, three quarters had difficulty proving their address. Non-voters were more likely to say that it would have been at least somewhat difficult to prove their identity and address (13% of all youth non-voters, but 16% of Aboriginal youth and 24% of youth with a disability who did not vote).
Interest in the last federal election was high overall: 86% of youth and 93% of older adults said they were very or somewhat interested. Interest in Canadian politics in general was not as keen: 19% of youth said they were not very or not all interested, compared to 7% of older adults.
Although most youth (84%) and older adults (88%) thought that at least one political party talks about issues that are important to them, youth felt less strongly that, by voting, they could make a difference (74% vs. 86%).
A significant portion of respondents expressed a sense of alienation. Nearly half of all respondents agreed with the statement “I do not think government cares much about what people like me think.” Roughly 40% of all respondents thought that “sometimes politics and government seem so complicated that someone like me can’t really understand what’s going on” (39% of older adults and 45% of youth, but nearly 60% of Aboriginal youth and youth with a disability).
A very important motivational factor was whether an elector viewed voting as a civic duty or a choice. Older adults were more likely to see voting as a duty rather than a choice (twice as many), whereas youth in general were split almost evenly. Unemployed youth, the group least likely to vote, were more likely than other groups to consider voting to be a choice (60%).
Youth in general were as politically engaged in the past year as older adults, but they were only half as likely to have been contacted directly by a party or candidate (29% of youth vs. 59% of older adults). Youth who voted were almost twice as likely as those who did not vote to say that they had been contacted by a party or candidate.
Older adults were much more likely to find it very or somewhat easy to get enough information about the candidates and parties to know whom to vote for. Finally, older adults demonstrated higher levels of political knowledge, as measured by a series of five knowledge-testing questions. While 65% of older adults were able to answer at least four out of five questions correctly, this dropped to 45% among youth.