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Voter Turnout among Younger Canadians and Visible Minority Canadians: Evidence from the Provincial Diversity Project

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4. Characteristics of Visible Minority Voters

In order to understand why visible minority Canadians are less likely to vote than other Canadians, it is necessary to determine whether the socio-economic characteristics and political attitudes for which visible minorities and other Canadians differ are indeed related to voting. The analyses were performed separately for visible minority Canadians and other Canadians as well as for voting in federal and provincial elections. The task is, using binomial logistic regressions, to identify the characteristics of visible minority voters.

4.1 Socio-Demographic Characteristics of Visible Minority Voters

As indicated in Table 6, there are three socio-demographic characteristics that are correlates of voting for both visible minority Canadians and other Canadians. Age is the first characteristic. As prior research has documented, those who are older are more likely to report having voted; this holds both among visible minority voters and other voters, and it holds for federal and provincial elections. The relationship among visible minority voters for provincial elections is significant at the .10-level. That older people are more likely to vote thus extends to visible minority Canadians as well.

Table 6. Correlates of Voting among Visible Minority Canadians
  Voting in Federal elections (1-0) Voting in Provincial elections (1-0)
  Visible Minority Canadians Other Canadians Visible Minority Canadians Other Canadians
Socio-Demographic Factors B SE B SE B SE B SE
Age .04 .01 a .04 .01 a .02 .01 .04 .01 a
Woman .11 .23 -.15 .17 -.25 .21 -.02 .18
Education (ref. no high school)
Post-secondary
University
Post-graduate
 
.16
.54
.46
 
.38
.37
.49
 
.63
.95
.91
 
.23
.26
.38
 
b
a
c
 
.55
.91
.66
 
.43
.38
.41
 
 
b
 
 
.70
.88
.54
 
.22
.23
.38
 
b
a
 
Household income .14 .05 b .02 .03 .11 .04 b .02 .03
Unemployed .62 .43 .34 .37 1.33 .47 b .33 .39
Student .52 .40 -.35 .37 .49 .45 -.33 .33
Married -.02 .28 .64 .18 a .13 .27 .44 .18 b
Time spent at religious inst. -.32 .32 -.22 .33 -.56 .31 -.29 .32
Immigrant (ref. Can. Born)
0-10 years
11-20 years
More than 20 years
 
-1.29
-.28
-.60
 
.30
.34
.31
 
a
 
 
 
-.52
.29
-.17
 
.78
.94
.48
 
-1.56
.03
-.36
 
.32
.31
.31
 
a
 
 
 
-1.78
-.06
-.26
 
.75
1.23
.46
 
b
 
 
Regions (ref. Ontario)
Quebec
BC
Prairies
Atlantic
 
.71
-.01
-.87
1.84
 
.33
.27
.28
1.43
 
c
 
b
 
 
1.02
-.15
-.01
.17
 
.28
.24
.22
.25
 
a
 
 
 
 
.58
.02
-.27
-.61
 
.35
.25
.27
1.23
 
1.46
-.23
-.05
.27
 
.27
.24
.21
.23
 
a
 
 
 
Political Orientations and Attitudes
Interest in (fed./prov.) politics .08 .05 .08 .04 c .19 .05 a .14 .04 a
Close to party (fed./prov.) .86 .32 b .88 .18 a .90 .28 b .56 .19 b
Politics (fed./prov.) is too complicated -.39 .49 -.57 .31 -.10 .47 -.54 .32
People like me have no say in (fed./prov.) politics .79 .45 .68 .34 c -.32 .45 .42 .33
I would feel guilty if I did not vote in (fed./prov.) election 2.22 .40 a 3.13 .28 a 2.93 .42 a 3.33 .24 a
I feel my vote can make a difference 1.37 .39 a 1.67 .33 a .92 .41 c 1.47 .31 a
Discussed politics during youth at home -.07 .39 .43 .27 -.82 .41 c .52 .25 c
Confidence in HofC/Prov. Legis. -.03 .06 -.12 .05 b -.25 .08 b -.14 .05 b
Confidence in Elections Canada .10 .06 .12 .04 b .26 .10 b .08 .04
Attachment to (Canada/prov.) .08 .06 -.00 .03 .11 .06 c -.00 .03
Impact of (fed./prov.) govt. .00 .06 .04 .04 -.05 .06 .01 .04
Social trust .51 .27 .02 .18 .22 .23 .18 .17
Constant -5.87 .80 a -5.57 .70 a -5.05 .79 a -4.97 .60 a
Number of observations 1190 3772 1206 3806

Source: Provincial Diversity Project. Entries report B coefficients (Binomial logistic regressions)
a: p<.001; b: p<.01; c: p<.05.

Region is the second characteristic that affects voting for both visible minority and other Canadians. People living in Quebec are more likely to report having voted. This holds both in the context of federal and provincial elections. The relationship for visible minorities in the context of provincial elections is significant only at the .10-level.

Being a recent immigrant is the third characteristic. Recent immigrants, whether they are visible minority members or not, tend to vote less than the rest of the population, and this holds in both federal and provincial elections. The only exception is for Canadians who are not members of a visible minority group in the context of federal elections. The predicted probabilities indicate that the gaps in reporting having voted in provincial elections between the Canadian-born population and recent immigrants are 29 points (87% vs. 58%) and 15 points (96% vs. 81%) respectively among visible minority voters and other voters. The least likely group to vote based on these analyses appears to be visible minorities who are recent immigrants.

Some characteristics, while they emerge as correlates of voting for Canadians who are not members of a visible minority group are not significant for visible minorities. This is the case for education. While education is associated with a greater propensity to vote for Canadians who are not members of a visible minority group both in federal and provincial elections, it does not emerge as a systematic correlate of voting for visible minority Canadians. The same finding is observed for being married. While married Canadians who are not members of a visible minority appear more likely to vote in federal or provincial elections, this is not the case among visible minorities. Conversely, household income is positively correlated with voting (both in federal and provincial elections), but only among visible minority Canadians; the relationship is not statistically significant among other Canadians.

Finally, a certain number of socio-demographic characteristics do not emerge as significant correlates of voting for either groups or any level of election. This is the case for gender. There is no gender gap in voter turnout either among visible minority Canadians or other Canadians. Second, being a student does not appear to be a significant correlate of voting either. Third, the same generally holds true for being unemployed, although it is positively correlated with voting in provincial elections among visible minorities. Finally, there is no evidence of a relationship between the time spent with other people at a religious institution and the likelihood of reporting having voted in either federal or provincial elections.

4.2 Political Attitudes of Visible Minority Voters

What about political attitudes? Do they have a similar impact on the tendency to vote of visible minority Canadians and other Canadians? There are important common correlates of voting among visible minority Canadians and other Canadians, and many of those are the same observed when comparing younger and older Canadians.

Feeling close to a political party, feeling of guilt about non-voting, and the perception that one's vote can make a difference are three systematic correlates of voting for both visible minority Canadians and other Canadians that are also common to older and younger voters.Footnote 9Interest in politics is also a correlate of voting here for both visible minority Canadians and other Canadians, while it was not so clear when comparing age groups.

To this list, we can add confidence in either Elections Canada or in the House of Commons/provincial legislature. Two further clarifications are required here. First, neither relationship is statistically significant in the context of federal elections among visible minorities. Second, as mentioned earlier in the discussion of younger and older voters, while confidence in Elections Canada is associated with a greater propensity to vote, confidence in the legislative branch of government is associated with a lower propensity to vote. As mentioned above, the relationship between higher confidence in the legislative bodies and lower voter turnout could mean that people with low confidence in the legislative bodies are more likely to mobilize in an attempt to defeat the government or send the signal that they watch closely what the government is doing. As for the positive relationship between confidence in Elections Canada and voter turnout, this could simply denote a greater desire to vote when the process and those who administer it are perceived to be trustworthy.

We do not find systematic correlates of voting for either group or level of election in the remaining list of variables: feeling that one has no say in politics, feeling that politics is too complicated, attachment to Canada or to the province, the perceived impact of government on one's life or social trust. Each of these variables at best emerges as a correlate of voting for only one group and for only one of the two levels of elections.

It is difficult to make sense of the results for the variable measuring the frequency of political discussions at home during one's youth. While the frequency of political discussions does not significantly correlate with voting in federal elections for either visible minorities or other Canadians, with regards to voting provincial elections it is negatively correlated for visible minorities and positively correlated for all other Canadians. Like we did for younger and older Canadians, we also tested the link between frequency of political discussions at home during one's youth and voting, but controlling only for socio-demographic characteristics. The results confirm what we observed among younger and older Canadians. When controlling for only socio-demographic characteristics, Canadians who discussed politics at home frequently during their youth are more likely to vote in federal and provincial elections. This holds for visible minorities and other Canadians, although the relationship is not significant for visible minorities in the context of provincial elections (not presented).

Once again, as we observed when comparing younger and older voters, many of the correlates of voting are common to both visible minority Canadians and other Canadians and to both provincial and federal elections. A few correlates of voting are specific to either visible minority Canadians (household income) or other Canadians (education and being married). As we observed when comparing younger and older Canadians, there are no correlates of voting that are specific to one type of election. The reasons why people vote and do not vote appearĀ  to relate more to their individual characteristics and the way that they relate to politics more generally than political dynamics that are specific to either federal or provincial elections.

The previous two sections have identified several key characteristics of voters, whether they are younger or older, or whether they are members of a visible minority group or not. This still does not precisely answer the questions at the centre of this report: why are younger Canadians less likely to vote than older ones? And why are visible minority Canadians less likely to vote than other Canadians? Before we try to answer these questions, we propose to examine the situation from another perspective. We leave aside whether or not Canadians vote in federal or provincial elections and instead focus on those who abstain in both, that we call here “habitual non-voters”.

Two motivations justify such a decision. First, of course, we would prefer that all Canadians vote in every election. In practice, however, this is not always possible for people to vote for a variety of reasons (see Pammet and Leduc, 2003). Hence, looking at individuals' participation in a single election can be misleading, as argued by Howe, because people might simply have been busy, sick or unable to vote for other reasons (2010:12). It might not reflect a deeply entrenched orientation toward voting or the political system more broadly. The more fundamental problem is not when Canadians miss out at one election, but rather when they systematically abstain from voting in multiple or in all elections. As Howe (2010) argues, these systematic abstainers, or habitual non-voters, likely hold more profound motivational reasons to abstain from voting than people who miss one election from time to time. Second, we also examine whether people abstain from voting at both federal and provincial elections because our preceding analyses have clearly demonstrated that for the most part, the correlates of voting are the same for both federal and provincial elections. In short, there do not seem to be many important order-of-government-specific reasons why Canadians abstain from voting in federal or provincial elections. The reasons why people do not vote appear more related to broader sets of political attitudes not specifically related to one order of government.







Footnote 9 With the exception of the perception that the vote can make a difference, which is not significant among younger Canadians.