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

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5. Characteristics of Habitual Non-Voters

In the present section, we examine the characteristics of habitual non-voters or, in our research design, those who report not having voted in either the last federal or provincial elections. Not surprisingly, our data in Table 7 indicate that younger Canadians and visible minority Canadians are more likely to be habitual non-voters. While only 10% of Canadians aged 35 years and older report not having voted in both federal and provincial elections, this proportion increases to 31% among the 25 to 34 and to 47% among the 18 to 24.Footnote 10Conversely, being a habitual voter, that is having voted in both elections, increases with age. While 85% of older Canadians report having voted in both federal and provincial elections, that proportion is 61% among Canadians aged 25 to 34 and only 44% among those aged 18 to 24. Similarly, visible minority Canadians are more likely than other Canadians to be habitual non-voters (29% vs. 14%), and while only 62% of visible minority Canadians report having voted in both elections, this proportion is 81% among other Canadians. There are very few Canadians who report having voted in only one of the two elections, and the proportion of Canadians who report having voted in only one of the two elections is evenly split between those who voted only in the federal elections and those who voted only in the provincial elections (results not presented).

Table 7. Habitual Non-Voting among Younger Canadians and Visible Minority Canadians
  Age Groups Visible Minority Status
  18-24 25-34 35+ Visible Minority Canadians Other Canadians
Has voted in both federal and provincial elections (%) 44 61a 85a 62 81a
Has voted in only one of the two elections (%) 10 8 5a 8 5b
Has not voted in neither of the two elections (%) 47 31a 10a 29 14a
n= 738 2139 4829 1840 5351

Difference with 18-24 or visible minorities: a: p<.001; b: p<.01; c: p<.05.
Source: Provincial Diversity Project

But who are the habitual non-voters? To identify the characteristics of habitual non-voters, we performed binomial logistic regressions in which the dependent variable indicates whether respondents have not voted in both elections. The political attitude variables included in the model are different from those used in previous analyses. In Tables 4, 5 and 6, we associated the vote at a specific level (province or federal) with a political attitude associated with this level of government. For instance, in investigating voting in federal elections, we looked at the relationship with interest in federal politics. Similarly, in investigating voting in provincial elections, we looked at the relationship with interest in provincial politics. For the following analyses, we combined the political attitudes for both orders of government. For instance, the model includes a variable that measures interest in both federal and provincial politics.

5.1 Habitual Non-Voters among Younger Canadians

Table 8 presents the findings for the comparison of age groups. The analyses confirm the findings observed in the previous analyses. First, more educated people are less likely to be habitual non-voters. This holds among all three age groups. Second, recent immigrants are more likely to be habitual non-voters; this holds among Canadians aged 18 to 24 and those aged 25 to 34, but not among older Canadians. The effect for being a recent immigrant is substantial. Among the 18 to 24, the predicted probabilities indicate that while about 23% of Canadians would be habitual non-voters, this proportion is more than 90% among recent immigrants. Finally, Quebecers appear less likely to be habitual non-voters, regardless of the age group examined.

Table 8. Correlates of Habitual Non-Voting among Younger Canadians
Habitual non-voters (1-0)
  18-24 25-34 35+
Socio-Demographic Factors B SE B SE B SE
Age -.02 .13 .06 .04 -.04 .01 a
Woman .21 .39 .17 .26 .11 .25
Education (ref. no high school)
Post-secondary
University
Post-graduate
 
-1.82
-1.35
-1.13
 
.55
.47
1.09
 
a
b
 
 
-1.08
-.88
-1.52
 
.34
.33
.56
 
b
b
b
 
-.67
-1.12
-1.37
 
.29
.33
.63
 
c
b
c
Household income -.10 .05 c -.11 .04 b -.01 .05
Unemployed -1.46 .75 c .96 .49 c -.79 .59
Student .80 .40 c 1.81 .46 a -.70 1.27
Married -.08 .47 -.35 .26 -.72 .29 c
Time spent at religious inst. .97 .55 .16 .40 .52 .46
Visible minority -.54 .47 .12 .40 .39 .43
Immigrant (ref. Can. Born)
0-10 years
11-20 years
More than 20 years
3.57
.10
2.92
.87
.71
1.12
a

c

2.52
2.12
.04
.63
.67
.56
a
b
.73
-1.65
.31
.89
1.05
.47
Regions (ref. Ontario)
Quebec
BC
Prairies
Atlantic
 
-1.61
.80
.37
-.80
 
.56
.54
.56
.71
 
b
 
 
 
 
-1.11
-.16
.55
-.55
 
.40
.34
.34
.38
 
b
 
 
 
 
-2.06
.03
-.15
-.42
 
.43
.30
.28
.32
 
a
 
 
 
Political Orientations and Attitudes
Interest in (fed./prov.) politics -.05 .05 -.04 .03 -.03 .02
Close to party (fed./prov.) -.82 .23 a -.63 .15 a -.56 .12 a
Politics (fed./prov.) is too complicated -.17 .38 .44 .26 .57 .24 c
People like me have no say in (fed./prov.) politics .34 .41 -.13 .27 -.23 .27
I would feel guilty if I did not vote in (fed./prov.) election -1.16 .29 a -2.03 .25 a -1.78 .19 a
I feel my vote can make a difference -.53 .61 -1.02 .47 c -1.65 .47 a
Discussed politics during youth at home -.68 .61 -.44 .39 -.21 .36
Confidence in HofC/Prov. Legis. .14 .06 c .10 .05 c .09 .04 c
Confidence in Elections Canada -.24 .09 c -.18 .08 c -.16 .06 b
Attachment to (Canada/prov.) -.08 .05 -.02 .03 -.06 .03 c
Impact of (fed./prov.) govt. .08 .05 .01 .03 -.05 .03
Social trust -1.25 .46 b -.12 .29 -.13 .25
Constant 4.68 3.27 1.95 1.50 6.73 .89 a
Number of observations 357 1309 3355

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

Many political attitudes also emerge as correlates of habitual non-voting among all age groups. Being close to a party (whether federal or provincial), feeling guilty when non-voting (whether in federal or provincial elections), and confidence in Elections Canada are all associated with a lower propensity to be a habitual non-voter. Confidence in the legislative branch of government is also a correlate of being a habitual non-voter, but as indicated previously, it is an inverse correlation: greater confidence in the legislative branch is associated with a weaker propensity to vote. We already discussed the potential meaning of such a relationship. Feeling that one's vote can make a difference is negatively correlated with being habitual non-voters, but the relationship is not significant among Canadians aged 18 to 24.

Other characteristics apply to some groups but not to others. For instance, higher income correlates negatively with being a habitual non-voter, but only among younger Canadians (those aged 18 to 24 and 25 to 34). Similarly, Canadians aged 18 to 24 and 25 to 34 who are students are more likely to be habitual non-voters.  This last finding highlights the benefits of looking at habitual non-voting instead of looking only at voting at federal or provincial elections separately. When looking at federal and provincial election separately, being a student was not a correlate of voting among the 18 to 24; it now is.

The findings concerning being unemployed are puzzling. While Canadians aged 25 to 34 who are unemployed appear more likely to be habitual non-voters, among Canadians aged 18 to 24, the opposite is observed and the unemployed appear less likely to be habitual non-voters. It is very difficult to make sense of this counter-intuitive finding.

Four characteristics are specific to Canadians aged 35 years and older. First, those who are married are less likely to be habitual non-voters. Second, older people – within this age range – are less likely to be habitual non-voters. Third, those who feel politics is too complicated are more likely to be habitual non-voters. And fourth, those more attached to Canada and/or their province are also less likely to be habitual non-voters.

5.2 Habitual Non-Voters among Visible Minority Canadians

Table 9 presents the findings for the comparison of visible minority and other Canadians. Age and living in Quebec are the only two socio-demographic correlates of habitual non-voting common to both visible minorities and Canadians who are not members of a visible minority group among the socio-demographic characteristics. Older people and those living in Quebec are less likely to be habitual non-voters.

Table 9. Correlates of Habitual Non-Voting among Visible Minority Canadians
  Habitual non-voters (1-0)
  Visible Minority Canadians Other Canadians
Socio-Demographic Factors B SE B SE
Age -.03 .01 b -.04 .01 a
Woman .13 .25 .30 .21
Education (ref. no high school)
Post-secondary
University
Post-graduate
 
-.05
-.38
-.50
 
.41
.40
.54
 
-.96
-1.21
-1.23
 
.26
.28
.44
 
a
a
b
Household income -.16 .06 b -.04 .03
Unemployed -.83 .49 -.64 .43
Student -.79 .48 .38 .40
Married -.01 .31 -.64 .21 b
Time spent at religious inst. .69 .36 .45 .41
Immigrant (ref. Can. Born)
0-10 years
11-20 years
More than 20 years
 
1.35
-.02
.56
 
.33
.39
.33
 
a
 
 
 
.87
-.58
.28
 
1.10
1.01
.56
Regions (ref. Ontario)
Quebec
BC
Prairies
Atlantic
 
-1.12
-.10
.56
-1.77
 
.41
.29
.32
1.51
 
b
 
 
 
 
-1.92
-.04
-.25
-.52
 
.32
.27
.26
.28
 
a
 
 
 
Political Orientations and Attitudes
Interest in (fed./prov.) politics -.05 .03 -.05 .02 c
Close to party (fed./prov.) -.59 .16 a -.49 .12 a
Politics (fed./prov.) is too complicated .32 .31 .35 .19
People like me have no say in (fed./prov.) politics -.25 .30 -.23 .21
I would feel guilty if I did not vote in (fed./prov.) election -1.58 .26 a -1.85 .15 a
I feel my vote can make a difference -1.12 .41 b -1.69 .39 a
Discussed politics during youth at home .18 .43 -.32 .32
Confidence in HofC/Prov. Legis. .03 .04 .11 .03 b
Confidence in Elections Canada -.08 .08 -.17 .05 b
Attachment to (Canada/prov.) -.06 .04 -.02 .02
Impact of (fed./prov.) govt. .02 .03 -.02 .03
Social trust -.56 .30 -.21 .21
Constant 5.61 .82 a 6.19 .74 a
Number of observations 1146 3691

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

Education and being married are correlates of habitual non-voting that are specific to Canadians who are not members of a visible minority group. Conversely, income and being a recent immigrant are two correlates of habitual non-voting that are specific to visible minority Canadians. Visible minority Canadians with a greater household income are less likely to be habitual non-voters. And visible minority Canadians who are recent immigrants are significantly more likely to be habitual non-voters. Our predicted probabilities indicate that while about 8% of visible minorities born in Canada are habitual non-voters, this proportion climbs to 24% among those who are recent immigrants. Habitual non-voting among visible minorities who are recent immigrants is thus substantial.

With regards to political attitudes, feeling close to a party, feeling guilty when not voting, and feeling that one's vote can make a difference are all associated with a lower likelihood of being a habitual non-voter for both groups. This also holds for interest in politics, although the relationship is significant only at the .10-level among visible minority Canadians.

Greater confidence in the legislative branch of government is associated with a greater likelihood of being a habitual non-voter, but only among Canadians who are not members of visible minority group. Conversely, greater confidence in Election Canada is associated with a lower likelihood of being a habitual non-voter and again only among Canadians who are not members of a visible minority group.

Feeling that politics is too complicated or that one does not have much say in what the government does are not correlates of habitual non-voting here, either for visible minorities or other Canadians. The same holds for discussing politics at home during one's youth, attachment to the political communities, perceived impact of government on one's life, or social trust.

Overall, the present section confirms many of the correlates identified in Tables 4, 5 and 6. Its contribution is to suggest that these correlates of voting not only relate to occasional abstention that normally takes place among the population at every election, but also to the growing and more worrisome reality of habitual non-voting (or systematic abstention across elections). Political attitudes such as feeling close to a party, feeling guilty when not voting, believing that voting can make a difference, and confidence in public institutions are key attitudes to instil in order to prevent the emergence of habitual non-voting, a behaviour that is growing and that has potentially critical consequences for the representation of many groups in our elected House of Commons and more broadly for the legitimacy of our political institutions.