POLITICS

Canadian Voter Turnout Really Is That Bad. Just Look At This Graph.

10/08/2015 12:40 EDT | Updated 10/08/2015 12:59 EDT

Imagine a comedian, playing to a dwindling audience.

She has a deep repository of jokes, and she tries her best to generate laughs.

But gradually, the audience starts leaving their seats. And slowly, she has to tailor her act to the people who are left. But the audience is still growing smaller and smaller.

This is a metaphor for Canadian politics. Our politicians are going out on the campaign trail with grand promises about how they're going to change the country.

But they're doing it for a smaller and smaller proportion of Canadian voters. And now they're playing to some of the tiniest relative audiences in Canada's history.

This infographic shows just how much the proportion of Canadian voters has diminished since Confederation:

The graph demonstrates that, proportionally, Canada is seeing its worst turnout ever.

It's been falling since 1988 and it reached its lowest point (58.8 per cent) in 2008.

What about the young people?

One of the issues identified in connection with voter turnout is how few young people are casting ballots.

At one time, there was an assumption that young people would become more engaged as they grew older, and increase their participation in democracy.

But that doesn't appear to be happening, says a study by the Library of Parliament.

It found that as voters age, they're "voting in lower numbers than their equivalent age cohorts did in the past."

An estimated 37.4 per cent of people aged 18 to 24 cast ballots in the 2008 election (a year in which other age demographics saw bigger declines).

That number was down from 43.8 per cent in 2006, though it was about the same as in 2004 (37 per cent).

Research has shown that if young people don't vote in the first two elections in which they can do it, then they're unlikely to start as they grow up.

There are concerns that the current non-voting trend could have "long-lasting implications for voter participation in Canada."

Indeed, a lack of engagement from young people is believed to have dragged down turnout as much as seven per cent in the 1993, 1997 and 2000 elections.

But why don't they vote? Jonathan Malloy, head of political science at Ottawa's Carleton University, has a few ideas.

"One thing that comes out in the evidence of not just 20-year-olds but also 30-year-olds and 40-year-olds is they only want to vote if they feel it's authentic," he told CBC News.

"They don't want to vote if they don't feel informed about the issues, that they are cynical about people, they don't want to go in and hold their nose and vote for just anybody."

A lower youth vote is for not for lack of encouragement.

CBC has rolled out a "Pledge to Vote" campaign, in which people commit to casting a ballot based on specific issues. The pledge then shows up on a map on CBC's website.

The Carleton University Students' Association did this.

Elections Canada is trying something different: it's making it easier for young people to cast ballots, Global News reported.

The project that involves taking special ballots directly to students on campuses so they can vote in their ridings even if they're far from home.

And it's generating positive responses.

"It was great. It was super-easy," Stephanie Lawrence, a Carleton student, told the network.

Elections Canada field officer Joan O'Neill said the agency is trying to "capture the youth wherever they may be," and she hopes students keep doing it as they grow older.

"They have shown that if you cultivate the habit early, they will continue. If you don't cultivate the habit early, you tend not to all of a sudden take it up when you are older," she said.

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In Photos: Canada Election 2015