OTTAWA — "You'll need to volunteer yourself for this," reads a tag line at the bottom of a GIF the Liberal party used to mobilize young Canadians during the last federal election.
The GIF is a scene from "Arrested Development," the critically acclaimed television show, in which socially inept Buster tells his brother, Michael: "Mom volunteered me for the army. Just because the fat man dared her to."
The GIF on the party website includes only the first part of that quote, but it is one of several pieces of content the Liberals used last fall to connect with and encourage young voters to cast a ballot.
Six months after the last election campaign, the impact of the Liberals' outreach to 18- and 24-year-olds — a fully developed media campaign that addressed young Canadians on issues such as marijuana legalization, youth jobs, the environment, affordable post-secondary education and the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning and two-spirited people, otherwise known as LGBTQ2 rights — is getting more attention.
A new survey out Tuesday from Abacus Data suggests young Canadians were critical to the Liberal party's majority victory on Oct. 19.
Liberal leader Justin Trudeau addresses students and staff during a campaign event at St. Thomas University Wednesday, October 7, 2015 in Fredericton. (Photo: Paul Chiasson/CP)
Forty-five per cent of Canadians aged 18 to 25 voted Liberal, compared with 25 per cent for the NDP and 20 per cent for the Conservative Party, the online poll of 1,000 suggests.
More young people voted for the Liberals in every region of the country, including in Alberta, than for any other party.
The Liberals' gains came mostly at the expense of the NDP, the Abacus survey indicates. Forty-three per cent of young voters who had gone NDP in 2011 voted Liberal in 2015, while 29 per cent of young Tory voters switched to the Grits.
The online survey of Canadians aged 18 to 25 was conducted between Feb. 8 and 15. The margin of error for a comparable probability-based random sample of the same size is +/- 3.2%, 19 times out of 20.
'Young people coalesced around one option'
"Young people affected the last election in a way they haven't in the past," David Coletto, the CEO of Abacus Data, told The Huffington Post Canada. "We see much higher evidence of a higher turnout among those under 34, and, really for the first time since 1997, young people coalesced around one option."
Coletto said he believes "young people really gave the Liberals a majority."
"The Liberals probably would have won, had [youth] turnout been what it was in 2011, but I think [the increase in the youth vote] really pushed them over."
While the Liberals' vote grew by double-digits across all age groups, Coletto's survey suggests that the increase in support among young people was most impressive as it represented a 30-point swing among voters aged 18 to 29 and a 31-point swing among those aged 30 to 44.
His findings are similar to a Statistics Canada survey from February that also reported a 12-point increase in voter turnout for youth aged 18 to 24, and an 11-point increase for those age aged 25 to 34.
Youth influence not so 'trivial'
Back in 2013, when HuffPost first wrote about then newly elected Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau's efforts to reach out to young people with a pledge to legalize marijuana and by making numerous campus visits, pollsters Frank Graves from EKOS and Darrell Bricker of Ipsos Public Affairs cast doubt on the strategy.
Young people have a "trivial influence" on election outcomes because of their declining voting rates, Graves told HuffPost.
"If the youth voted, it would change a lot," Bricker added. "But you first need them to show up."
Young people, he said, don't vote because they don't think their vote matters.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau poses with Caitlynn Charteris, Jay Cee Hebron and Tory Shynkaruk as he visits the Saskatchewan Roughrider practice field on Friday, July 5, 2013, in Regina. (Photo: Roy Antal/CP)
During the 2011 election, Elections Canada estimated, less than 39 per cent of young Canadians cast a ballot. In 2008, the agency's best guess was that 37 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds had participated.
Canada's chief electoral officer, Marc Mayrand, was particularly concerned about the low turnouts.
"If young people understood their collective influence and started to vote at the same rate as the general population, then that would mean 700,000 more votes at the election. That is bound to have an influence," Mayrand told HuffPost.
While it may not have been a sure bet, Liberals did set out to engage what they believed would be a core demographic for their electoral strategy, and they devoted considerable resources to involving young people, especially in the last weeks of the 2015 election.
Betting on youth proved expensive
At the outset of the campaign, the Liberals found identifying young voters online to be expensive, said Tom Pitfield, the person responsible for the Liberals' digital campaign and the current head of the think tank Canada 2020. So the party focused on other segments of voters, while it knocked on campus doors and pushed its message out to young people through shareable campaigns.
As HuffPost first outlined in a piece about the Liberals' winning strategy immediately after the election, Trudeau's team designed a campaign titled #matters that focused solely on young people's issues. A microsite, built by Pitfield's team of 20-somethings, included compelling digital videos featuring real people, some of which went viral and helped the Liberals spread their message beyond the youth demographic to their parents, teachers and siblings.
A few days before on-campus advance polls opened on Oct. 5, the Grits made a big and expensive push on Facebook, Youtube, and Vice, among other sites, to get their message out, Pitfield said.
Trudeau also sat down for with Vice for a town hall in which he urged young people to head out to the polls, a key point of the #matters campaign, telling them "Stephen Harper doesn't want you to vote." The clip went viral.
One of the best explanations for the importance of voting that I've ever heard. And I would have given kudos to Harper or Mulcair had they said it too.
Posted by Sandenn Killoran on Tuesday, 6 October 2015
"We hit hard," Pitfield said. "We spent a lot of money doing it and reaching out to [youth] based on the content that they engaged in."
The Liberals were also aided by having a party leader who was, in Pitfield's words, "likeable" and who connected well with young people.
"We did use it to our advantage in any way we could."
The Liberals' electoral strategy depended on bringing new voters to the polls, and they did. Voter turnout rose from 61.1 per cent in 2011 to 68.5 per cent — the highest since 1993.
"I think the lesson is: Don't write off young people. Don't write them off as being apathetic and unengaged."
— David Coletto, Abacus Data CEO
Getting young people out to vote was also helped in part by an Elections Canada pilot project that included new polling stations on some university campuses and in community centres.
Another reason for the higher voter turnout among young Canadians, Coletto suggests, is all the get-out-the-vote campaigns by organizations such as Apathy is Boring and the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, which commissioned his survey. More than one-third, 37 per cent, of the voting youth reported being encouraged to vote by an organization working to increase turnout among younger voters, the Abacus survey suggest.
Millennials a force in 2019
So what does it all mean?
Coletto believes the young people — millennials, those born between 1980 and 2000 — could constitute the largest voting group in 2019, becoming an influential and powerful block.
"I think the lesson is: Don't write off young people. Don't write them off as being apathetic and unengaged."
For Trudeau's government, keeping young voters happy and engaged is key to a successful re-election strategy, Coletto added.
So far, he sees signs the Liberals are listening to their younger demographic of voters. Trudeau appointed himself minister of youth, and the federal budget included many policies and programs aimed at youth employment and affordable post-secondary education, he noted.
"It's not easy to get young people engaged and get them to turn out again, so I think the results suggest that as we head towards the next election, as far away as that is, this government, probably more than any government before, has a real motivation to keep young people engaged … and I think that's a fundamental change."
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Hartley Bay, B.C. — "As we were walking around in this very very small Northern B.C. town, a woman spots the boss walking by through her window and quickly invites him in to say hello. "I didn't really care to go into her house, that was somebody's home and he was invited and we weren't. I happily stayed outside and ended up getting this great photo through the window with this wonderful woman that he ended up meeting."
Amherst, N.S. — "This is a great story of how interconnected we are as Canadians to different parts of our country. The photo in the background is the prime minister meeting this woman in Calgary at the Stampede and the photo was taken in Nova Scotia, and she showed up saying 'Hey! I'm the one on your bus.' I think we saw her one more time in the campaign in a totally different area as well. Each time, it was just a magical moment, because this woman was just so excited to see him, meet the team and now she actually got to be a part of it, in a way she could only have imagined as the setting of a great campaign bus wrap."
Hamilton, Ont. — "Here's a picture from one of our rallies with former prime minister Jean Chrétien, and he is a force all on his own to get people riled up and very, very excited. But it was fun to watch the two of them work in tandem and then see Mr. Chrétien stand aside and listen to the prime minister deliver his remarks in his speech and get the crowd worked up. I think this expression on his face really says it all without having to caption it."
Calgary, Alb. — "This is from the early days of the campaign. We were a very ragtag small team flying coast to coast. We were still flying commercial at this point. We ended up getting to Calgary in this room which — we were only expecting about 150 people — ended up having three or four hundred. And there are even more people waiting around out back in the parking lot. Of course, everybody wanted to be inside, and we crammed [in] as many people as we could. As soon as you cross this point where these kids and their father are standing, you actually got hit by a heatwave — just because it was so warm and humid inside with all the bodies."
St. Thomas University, Fredericton, N.B. — "Here is a photo of Meghan Gulliver out East in New Brunswick. She actually got a tattoo that reads: 'Just watch me' with the maple leaf on it. And it’s a photo of her showing me her tattoo with the prime minister in the background, which just reminds me how much of an impact we can have on people's lives and how meaningful he is to some people, which is a great reminder of why we are in this job in the first place."
Brampton, Ont. — "Here we are at the Brampton rally, with about 7,000 supporters, in the last month of the campaign. It was absolutely amazing to see a hockey arena filled up with well-wishers and to see the family move throughout the crowd. A lot of what we do on a day-to-day basis is not just tell you know here's a photo of the PM — or the candidate at the time — it is the story around him. What did the event look like to other people. Here is a great example of how enthusiastic people were just to be there."
Calgary, Alb. — "I love [this one] because of the hands. Everybody wants to meet him, everybody wants to shake his hand. Everybody wants to share a story that they've had, either with him or with a family member of his, whether it is his mother or his father, and they just want to be a part of that — and I think it really comes across in this. And it also comes across in terms of how open he is, and how engaged he is in meeting people. He could stand in one spot for two or three hours shaking hands in this manner. And he will be just as high energy at the end as when he started."
Calgary, Alb. — "This is the inside of the previous photos event. After having moved around the room a bit and gotten some of the typical photos that you would need from these events, I moved to the back of the room as that is how he had planned to exit and then my camera started fogging up. There were, I think it was 2,000 or 3,000 people inside, and you can see the lens flaring. And what I would have to do is take a photo, wipe my camera lens, take another photo and then it would fog up by that time again. And at that point, I think it really hit home that something crazy was about to happen."
Toronto, Ont. — "It was primarily myself and the EA Tommy [Desfossés], travelling around with the boss. It’s a very barebones team. He would always remind us that if you see something wrong, try to fix it, don’t expect other people to come along and fix it. And sure enough that is displayed here, when he noticed that somebody unbeknownst to them had a flat tire, and he ended up getting out as we were at a red light to let them know about their flat tire. It's just a comical moment illustrating who he is and 'do have fun in your job, but also try to help others as much as you can, no matter what that is.'"
Ottawa, Ont. — "This is just a photo of my father, who was visiting me on the Hill one day for lunch, and of course, is just happy to see me at work doing the same job that he did in the halls of Parliament and also happy to run into the boss. "He asked if the prime minister liked his Mickey Mouse tie, which is a family mainstay for us. We all like Mickey Mouse ties to try to lighten the mood and remind ourselves to have fun every day."
Ottawa, Ont. — "They let me be there for private moments. It enables me to do my job to the best of my ability, and it means that, for the historical record, there is a thorough telling of the story but also, for themselves, they have great memories to look back on. And certainly for the kids, they have great memories to look back on. And especially in day of iPhones and Samsung Galaxies at least this allows them to have a very good quality image as opposed to a just dinky camera phone. "Everybody always says 'Oh, it’s just for the photo op,' but really what I try to do is recognize people as much as I can. I wouldn’t be with him if I didn’t like him as an individual. How he fathers his kids, and how he works as a team with Sophie, is a measure of how great people they really are. How down-to-earth they are."
Manila, Philippines — "Here's a photo from one of our meetings. It's not so much about the one or two key players in the meeting but it's a story around the meeting and who else is taking part and what else is going on. "For example, I have my mother's last name simply because my parents decided to give me my mother’s last name. Growing up, I have always been very attuned to women in the workplace, as my mother was the breadwinner for the family for a while and it’s given me a different perspective of many of the things that we do. And this is just one of those moments where one side of the room had a lot more women than the other. And it hits home. It’s nice to be able to illustrate that in an artistic way without necessarily meaning anything from it, as opposed to pointing it out and saying this is still a reality."
Ottawa, Ont. — "This is a more lighthearted moment from the past year, where our office had been given a bunch of old negatives from a TV show that had gone into archives and copied them. But old negatives are not necessarily true colours, so what you need to do is you need to take an iPhone, invert the colour and then you can look at the negatives themselves as how they were shot. So this is a fun photo of old technology meets new and a reminder how things used to be done in this job and what goes into the job now. "He loves to learn about new technology, so any fun fact or fun work-around, whatever you call it, he likes to learn it. They are photos of Mr. Trudeau senior, and some of Justin, but not many, and it’s all stuff that we scanned and put away on hard drive for future reference…. Most were taken by the first person to be photographer to a PM, Robert Cooper."
Montreal, Que. — "Here is a picture of him working on his speech before his nomination in Papineau in November of last year. And I think Ella is drawing alongside him on a different piece of paper. It's always great to have the kids around, it reminds us to relax a little bit, have some fun, have a couple of laughs, and they are a great calming influence on us all because they remind us of those things."
Ottawa, Ont. — "This is a picture of the candidate at the time, Mr. Trudeau, being informed by Air Canada staff that Prime Minister Harper did, in fact, call the election as we were on our way to Vancouver to walk in the Pride parade as well as launch the campaign on the West Coast. "We'd asked the cabin crew if they could radio down to ground control, and ground control notified them as soon as anything had happened. We got a little printout, teletext message or telegraph message, as to what had happened and when we would actually vote. … We were all relieved to finally get things kicked off in a more official manner."
Iqaluit, Nunavut — "This was our second to last week, flying out of Iqaluit heading home, and just the beauty of it. We actually managed to take off in the evening, and we saw the northern lights from the plane. Seeing the Northern Lights is one thing, but seeing them from the plane is an entirely different experience."