The Martlet (University of Victoria)
In the 2008 federal election, youth voter turnout was only 37 per cent, compared to a national average of 58.8 per cent.
Various polls have shown that an increased voter turnout would result in a very different government. University of Victoria political science professor Janni Aragon points to a recent graph in The Globe and Mail called “How Canada Would Look if Youth Voted.”
“There would be more [members of Parliament] from the NDP and the Green Party would have people in Parliament as well,” said Aragon. “If we go based on the ways in which [youth] are interested, the ways in which they’re engaged, we’d see a more leftist Canadian government.”
The graph, based on a poll of 1,637 youths conducted by EKOS, projected a Liberal minority, with Conservatives wining only 18.8 per cent of the popular vote. However, even a marginal increase in youth voter turnout would have palpable affects.
“There are a number of ridings that are decided by just a few hundred votes. Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca will be a very good example of one. If students decided to vote, it could change the outcome of that entire riding,” said James Coccola, chairperson for UVic’s students’ society. “There are a couple in Vancouver that are going to be very close. And the student vote will make a difference.”
Coccola has been working with the students’ society to increase youth voter turnout. However, he feels low numbers aren’t reflective of a lack of political engagement.
“I know that youth care. I know that youth are really engaged on a lot of the issues. But for some reason, when it comes to voting day, historically they just haven’t shown up and I’m not really sure what it is,” he said.
Aragon says youth are more likely to be engaged in “unconventional political participation.”
“They will be out at the [legislature] protesting their high student loan debt when they graduate, they will be out making a guerilla garden ”¦ so in this unconventional participation, youth actually participate more than your average person, or definitely more than their parents do right now,” she said.
“But [social scientists] normally look at conventional political participation, and the easiest way to look at conventional political participation is voting and all the statistics that come out from voting.”
Continued advanced polling stations on campuses could help increase youth voter turnout, suggests Aragon.
Aragon says the recent incident at the University of Guelph, where a special ballot’s legitimacy was questioned but ultimately deemed valid, points to a lack of respect from politicians for the youth vote.
“The government needs to treat [students] like they matter and right now they don’t do so because youth don’t vote in great numbers. So it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy because of that. If they voted in bigger numbers, the government would pay attention to them. They don’t; therefore the government doesn’t pay attention to them.”
If students voted in larger numbers, Coccola says the students’ society would have more political sway.
“It’s important because students are easily ignored because often they don’t vote. If they were to vote, then it would be easier for the [students’ society] to go to politicians and say, ”˜Listen: we need to talk about student debt, because it’s crushing right now.’ And they’re in the back of their head going, ”˜Well, I know they have 80 per cent voter turnout rate, and if I do something it’s going to be a reward for me,” said Coccola.
“It helps both the students and the student society. So we love to see voter turnout go up so student issues become a bigger thing for politicians.”
Coccola encourages students to vote, even if they feel like their vote doesn’t matter.
“I know that in every election I’ve ever voted in, my vote’s never elected somebody. But what’s really important to note is that your vote is a show of support for a certain type of politics, a certain type of policy that you believe in,” he said. “That’s why youth should vote ”¦ their vote does matter even though they may not elect somebody.”