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Tackling the Myth of Politically Apathetic Young Canadians

10/15/2015 05:04 EDT | Updated 10/15/2016 05:12 EDT
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Protesting

"One of these days it's going to happen and it will change the country. If young people show up to vote, it will change everything," Rick Mercer, a satirical Canadian political observer, told Metro Morning host Matt Galloway this past week.

With young people voting at dramatically lower rates than older people in the 2011 election--and indeed across the western world -- could Mercer's prediction that young people will have their voices heard ever come true?

With five million voters under 30 years old, my age group would have a powerful political voice -- if they vote this election.

Samara Canada, a national nonpartisan charity, demonstrated through research that this generation is far from politically apathetic. Young Canadians are already rolling up their sleeves to make a difference: we talk about issues, we volunteer and work to solve challenges with our neighbours, we hit the streets to protest or lend our names to a petition. Given all this engagement, we should be primed to vote. For many, we feel politics moves too slowly for the change required. For others, the mechanics for how you go about having a voice in politics -- through voting, for example -- has been missing-in-action.

As Election Day approaches on October 19, Canadians can do a better job at encouraging those under 30 to vote. But research in this area cautions that finger wagging and nagging is not how to get people to the polls. A far more effective approach is one focused the social element of voting. Voting shouldn't be a boring, solo activity--voters should feel they're a part of something.

"The Myth of Apathetic Youth" is an infographic created by Samara Canada that illuminates the facts about the under 30 generation in Canada. Importantly it provides concrete and constructive steps for Canadians of all ages to help encourage turnout this election.

The infographic explains that young people vote at much lower rates than older Canadians. In the 2011 federal election, only 41 per cent of Canadians under 30 voted. But there are five million people under 30 in Canada: that's a huge number of people outside the political process. And a pool of untapped voters.

However, when it comes to rates of participation in political and civic life beyond voting, younger Canadians' participation rate is 11 percentage points higher, on average, than their older counterparts across 18 forms of participation:

• Discussed politics and political issues face to face or over the phone

- 18-29: 57 per cent

- 30-55: 51 per cent

- 56+: 49 per cent

• Worked with others in their communities

- 18-29: 50 per cent

- 30-55: 36 per cent

- 56+: 39 per cent

• Volunteer for a candidate or campaign

- 18-29: 22 per cent

- 30-55: 15 per cent

- 56+: 17 per cent

• Protested or demonstrated (34 per cent under 30 vs. 15 per cent 56+)

- 18-29: 34 per cent

- 30-55: 21 per cent

- 56+: 15 per cent

So, if young people are interested in the more time-consuming activities in politics, but don't vote, why is that?

There are six reasons why people do vote:

1. Duty: People feel as though they should vote because it's expected of them as citizens.

2. Social pressure: Friends or family, teachers or colleagues show them that political participation is valuable. After all, people are social creatures--we like to do what others are doing.

3. Something's at stake: Voting rates tend to go up when voters think every ballot counts, such as when there's a close race or a particularly critical issue being debated.

4. Habit: After their third time voting, people are more likely to continue doing so because it's become a habit.

5. No barriers: People are more likely to vote if it's easy--they have the required documents (e.g. photo ID, voter information cards); know when and where to cast a ballot; and can get there easily, without physical barriers.

6. Contact: People are more likely to vote once they've been asked to. They're most likely to vote when the person asking them is a friend or someone familiar to them, but even a stranger can affect someone's willingness to vote.

So, what can we do to raise voting rates?

Citizens:

- Social pressure works: tell your friends and co-workers that you're voting and ask them to do the same.

- Be encouraging and don't use guilt or a sense of duty to convince people to vote.

- Ask your friends, employees co-workers to make a plan to vote: What time of day are you voting? How are you getting there? Who are you taking with you?

- Ask candidates at your door how they're reaching out to youth.

- Promote civic responsibility as a fun activity instead of a lonely duty.

Parties and candidates:

- Reach out to young people and invite them to participate.

- Talk to them about what matters to them.

- Encourage them to vote.... for anyone. Who knows? Maybe they'll vote for you! That's five million votes that could come your way.

- And after you win: remember who put you there by continuing to engage with young people between elections.

Samara Canada invites groups and individuals to share the infographic below. The infographic is based on the report"Message Not Delivered: The Myth of Apathetic Youth and the Importance of Contact"

2015-10-10-1444439082-1014335-MNDInfographicMythofApatheticYouth.jpg

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