The decline in youth voter turnout in Canadian federal elections was first observed following the 1984 federal general election. Since then, youth voter turnout remains lower than the turnout for all other age groups, despite intermittent increases in recent years.
Research on voter participation suggests that the trend toward higher voter turnout as populations age seems to be weakening. This phenomenon could have serious consequences in the context of generational replacement, though some authors argue that the life-cycle effect occurs later in life among present generations.
There are many possible reasons for youth voter disengagement. Socio-demographic factors, education and being born in Canada have an important impact on whether youth vote. Studies have also found that interest in politics, or rather, a lack thereof, and knowledge of politics influence youth engagement, as many young people do not see themselves represented in party platforms. They also express a lack of trust in the system, both in the utility of voting and in the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, commonly known as Elections Canada, itself. However, media use reportedly has a positive impact overall on the acquisition of political knowledge. Reading newspapers and consulting news websites exert a strong positive influence on the electoral participation of young Canadians, although watching television and listening to the radio do not have as pronounced an effect.
In response, there have been various initiatives to increase the electoral participation of youth in Canada. Elections Canada has studied the issue and has worked on facilitating access and registration on the voters’ list. It has used advances in technology to facilitate online registration, lead communication and awareness campaigns, and interact with the general public through social media. Parliamentary and electoral simulation exercises give young people their first exposure to the political process and introduce them to the basic aspects of parliamentary debate. Accordingly, Elections Canada has supported programs that hold parallel elections in schools and has updated its education material on civic engagement.
This HillStudy examines trends in youth voter turnout for federal elections in Canada from 1965 to 2021 and considers the effects of declining voter participation on Canadian democracy. It explores determinants of Canadian youth voter participation as examined through various surveys and studies. Finally, it highlights initiatives to encourage youth engagement in federal elections.
Read the full text of the HillStudy: Youth Voter Turnout in Canada
By Emilie Lusson, Geneviève Gosselin and Michael Dewing, Library of Parliament
Revised by Emilie Lusson, Library of Parliament