Ontario Election: Voter Turnout An All-Time Low
TORONTO - A majority of eligible Ontario residents didn't cast a ballot in Thursday's election, marking the first time turnout in the province dipped below 50 per cent.
Preliminary figures from Elections Ontario show that the unofficial voter turnout was 49.02 per cent.
It marks a new low in turnout for Ontario elections, though voter turnout at all levels has been steadily declining for years. The number shouldn't be surprising, said Carleton University political science professor Jon Pammett. The 50-per-cent mark is more of a mental barrier, he said.
"I'm not sure I'd say it's significant, but you might consider it symbolic," he said. "It's a symptom of an overall attitude to public participation."
In 2007, the last provincial election, 52.1 per cent of voters went to the polls and in 2003 the voter turnout was 56.8 per cent. The turnout is even lower than the 50.6 per cent of eligible voters who cast a ballot in Toronto's municipal election last year.
And there's nothing to suggest it won't keep slipping.
"It's hard to see anything working at the moment to push turnout up," Pammett said.
Voter fatigue after a federal election in May and municipal elections last October and tapped-out party resources likely contributed to the low turnout, but Queen's University political studies professor Scott Matthews thinks the main issue is fairly simple.
"It was kind of a boring campaign," he said. "It didn't really raise any issues to really excite the interests of voters."
Elections Ontario introduced some new ways to vote, and the turnout at advance polls was up, but Matthews said he suspects those were people who would have voted on Thursday anyway.
"These things don't matter all that much," he said. "People don't decide to stay home because it's just too hard to walk down the street and cast a ballot at the local church. They stay home because they're just not interested."
The responsibility for turning that around lies with the parties, who need to better engage voters and differentiate themselves, Matthews said. High-stakes elections can get people out to the polls in higher numbers, but there wasn't a sense of that this time, he said.
"When the sort of central elements of public policy are shared by the leading parties, why would you turn out to vote?" Matthews said. "You know things are going to work out pretty much OK anyway."
The federal election in May produced a slight increase in voter turnout, 61.1 per cent up from 58.8 in the 2008 federal election. Turnout also increased federally in 2006 in the election that saw Prime Minister Stephen Harper first wrest power away from the Liberals.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, speaking Friday morning in Hamilton, said voters were turned off by negative campaigning.
"If politics continues to just be about the ugly fighting between people who want power, the people of the province, the voters, the residents of Ontario, get lost in that fight," she said. "Then it's no wonder that they become cynical and they walk away from voting."
In a riding-by-riding analysis, voter turnout appears to have been lowest in areas just outside Toronto. The riding of Mississauga-Brampton South saw the smallest turnout at 37.3 per cent.
Those regions are ones in which a lot of new Canadians tend to settle, and recent immigrants are one group of people who, research shows, are less likely to vote, Matthews said. Other low turnout groups include youth and low-income people, he said.
According to the preliminary numbers, the riding with the highest turnout was Huron-Bruce, where about 60.1 per cent of voters cast their ballots. That riding is where Agriculture Minister Carol Mitchell lost her seat to Conservative Lisa Thompson, general manager of the Ontario Dairy Goat Co-operative.