Friday, November 25, 2011

The New Generation Gap

Yesterday, Elections Canada released a study on the problem of youthful apathy on voting day. The study suggests that  "young Canadians don't vote because politicians aren't able to connect to the issues that matter to them." That conclusion isn't all that surprising. But when you dig down into the numbers, things get interesting:

The study also selected several specific groups of youth — aboriginals, the disabled, unemployed, ethnic and youth in rural areas — to determine why they said they voted in lower numbers than the general population.

In the case of the unemployed and aboriginals, which includes First Nations and Inuit groups, only 42 per cent of those surveyed said they voted. About 55 per cent of those with disabilities and 61 per cent of ethnic youth asked said they voted.

Put simply, those who could be helped most by government don't vote,  perhaps because they have figured out that government -- at least as it is presently constituted -- has no intention of helping them.

And, even more importantly, knowledge of Canada's current political landscape is a good predictor of who will and who will not vote:

Political knowledge and interest were major factors the study suggests affect the likelihood someone will vote. Only 28 per cent of youth who aren't interested in politics voted, compared to 88 per cent who said they were interested in politics and did vote.

All of this suggests that progressive parties have to take voter education seriously. After the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, political activists in the United States fanned out across the country. Their mission was simple: to get out the vote.They obviously did not solve all their nation's problems. But the United States has its first African-American president.

There is a lesson there. Things will only change in Canada when the opposition parties find new ways to communicate with the young, the disaffected and the marginalized.


ck said...

Or they learn the hard lesson the rest of us are learning...that sometimes just showing up to vote for less evil can go a long way.

That hard lesson being, of course, 4 years of a Harper majority that we can't afford.

Owen Gray said...

Absolutely true, ck. Democracy may be, as Churchill said, better than the alternatives.

But it's also true that, in a democracy, you get the government you deserve. Until the vast majority of Canadians vote, we will all pay a price for their apathy.

Politicians like Mr. Harper know that voter suppression works in their favour.