POLITICS

Student voters elect third consecutive NDP government in provincial mock election

05/15/2013 04:40 EDT | Updated 07/15/2013 05:12 EDT
VANCOUVER - Public opinion pollsters in British Columbia may have predicted the wrong election.

In a province-wide mock election that ran alongside Tuesday’s real provincial vote, school children elected a third consecutive NDP government while the real election saw Christy Clark and the Liberals mount a surprising comeback, defeating the NDP and defying months of predictions.

Nearly 100,000 students cast fake ballots in an election that ran in 666 schools across B.C.

The students gave the New Democrats a majority government and a strengthened mandate with 53 of 85 seats, five more than in 2009.

That compares to the adult vote of 50 seats for the Liberals and 33 seats for the NDP in Tuesday's election.

Voters in B.C. elected Liberal governments in 2005, 2009 and now in 2013, but children across the province favoured the NDP on all three occasions, bucking a national trend that has seen underage voters follow their elders' voting tendencies in 17 of the 20 mock elections conducted so far.

Taylor Gunn, "chief electoral officer" and founder of the Student Vote program, has collected more than three million ballots in 10 years of parallel elections.

He said it’s hard to say why students ignore their parents’ voting behaviours in B.C. and not in other provinces.

“It may be that B.C. youth have values that are different than their parents,” Gunn said in a pre-election interview.

“When this campaign started a lot of people had written off winners and losers right from the start, and as we are seeing it is much closer than people had predicted a month ago,” he said, before knowing the outcome of Tuesday’s real election.

Students elected just 20 Liberal candidates, four fewer than in 2009.

The New Democrats garnered 38.55 per cent of the popular mock vote compared to 36.76 per cent in 2009 while the Liberals captured 28.09 per cent, less than one per cent fewer votes than they did in the last election.

In the real election 44 per cent of adult voters checked a Liberal ballot, while 39 per cent voted NDP.

Gunn operates the mock elections under a charity called Civix. He said his goal is to turn apathetic youth into knowledgeable, engaged citizens.

"From the feedback that we have received over the past ten years, we know that kids have been graduating the Student Vote program with as much if not more knowledge than their parents."

"It's because they've met the candidates, they've studied the issue, they've studied the platforms. They've actually studied what a citizen would need to know before going to the polls; they're not voting based on habit," he said.

Students who participated in the program studied party platforms, hosted debates at their schools and grilled local candidates on their policy positions.

Election posters could be seen pinned to bulletin boards in the halls of Kerrisdale Elementary School in Vancouver last week, where grade 6 and 7 students studied party platforms, hosted debates and grilled local NDP candidate Nicholas Scapillati when he visited.