Professor François Gélineau takes a fresh look at the results of the National Youth Survey, comparing the drivers of political participation among different age groups, between students and non-students and across provinces and territories.Footnote 1 The study sheds light on some key challenges for engaging different youth subgroups – as well as some important opportunities. Below we identify key findings for stakeholders who want to engage youth.
Young Canadians who were highly interested in the 2011 election were 29 percentage points more likely to vote than those with lower levels of interest. Those with high levels of knowledge of different voting options were 16.1 points more likely to vote, and those with high levels of political knowledge, 8.6 points more likely. And those who believe that voting is a civic duty were 14.7 points more likely to vote.Footnote 2 These findings underscore the importance of building interest in elections, political and electoral knowledge, and sense of civic duty… Continue reading »
But challenges and opportunities vary across youth subgroups. For example, interest in the election was highest among 18- to 19-year-olds and lowest among 30- to 34-year-olds. Knowledge about the electoral process was lowest among 20- to 24-year-olds and highest among 30- to 34-year-olds. Youth in the 20 to 24 age group had the lowest sense of civic duty, and were the least likely to have been contacted by a political party or candidate.Footnote 3
The study also showed differences between students and non-students. For example, students had higher levels of political knowledge (+15.3 points) and were more knowledgeable about the different ways of voting (+10.6 points). Footnote 4 They were also more likely to vote (+11.1 points).Footnote 5
These findings underline the diversity of the youth population and point to the need for tailored approaches to youth engagement. A one-size fits all approach will not work
Youth who read a newspaper or follow news online are more likely to vote. Youth who followed news online were also more likely to be informed (+9.7 points), more interested in politics (+20.3 points) and more interested in the election (+15.2 points).Footnote 6 The proliferation of online news sources offers youth new opportunities to connect with politics during elections. Encouraging the habit of reading a newspaper or online news on a regular basis can help young people become voters. This is particularly important for 18- and 19-year-olds, who were the least likely to use online news or newspapers as their main sources of information.
The study found that cynicism has a significant presence and may be preventing many young people from voting – particularly older youth. Not only were 30- to 34-year-olds less likely to have been interested in the 2011 general election, but they are also more cynical than their younger peers. This suggests that cynicism is a trait that people acquire as they age. This is an important finding as most studies in the past have indicated that cynicism is not a significant cause of declining youth voter turnout. If cynicism – as this study suggests – is preventing young people from voting, then stakeholders and policymakers need to consider how to counter it.
Civic education helps youth develop an interest in politics. When young people took a course in civics, they were much more likely to be interested (+17.6 points).Footnote 7 This highlights the importance of education in equipping young people with the resources they need to participate.
Youth who discussed politics had higher levels of political knowledge (+29.0 points), interest in politics (+38.8 points) and interest in the 2011 general election (+24.3 points).Footnote 8 Encouraging more discussion of politics with friends and family is perhaps the most important action that we can take to reverse the trend of declining turnout.
For a complete analysis of how the determinants of political participation vary by youth subgroup, read the full report. Contact us if you have any questions on the report or if you are interested in obtaining the data set.
Return to source of Footnote 1 The National Youth Survey (NYS) was conducted after the May 2011 federal election with 2,665 youth aged 18 to 34. The NYS provides the largest data set on youth electoral participation in Canada to date. The survey will be repeated after the next federal election in October 2015.
François Gélineau, PhD
June 28, 2013