11/25/2011 04:30 EST | Updated 01/24/2012 05:12 EST

Youth Voting: Young People May Just Not Want To Vote, Study Suggests


OTTAWA - A new study suggests young Canadians who say they can't get to the polls may actually mean they don't want to.

The Elections Canada National Youth Survey found that 64 per cent of people age 18-34 said the reason they didn't vote in the May 2011 election was due to issues with access.

But drilling down into the data reveals that those who say that school or work or family obligations get in the way of going to the polling station may be using that as an excuse, Elections Canada researcher Miriam Lapp said.

"What (the study) shows is that people will often cite a personal circumstance but what is really going on underneath is that they either felt that they didn't know enough about the parties or the issues, or they didn't care," she said.

What this means is that access and motivation are actually equally as important as factors when it comes to why young people aren't voting, Lapp said.

The real challenge is making voting matter, Lapp said.

"If it was important enough to them and if they cared about it, a lot of these access barriers probably wouldn't matter to them but because there is no motivation to go there then even a small barrier is going to prevent someone from going out," she said.

The study found that civic education plays a major role in getting young people connected to elections, and family, politicians and even celebrities can play a role.

Outreach all around needs to improve, Lapp said.

However, the study suggests that solving the barriers to access is likely the faster way to get more young people out on election day.

The recommendations include putting more polling stations where young voters are likely to be and making the identification requirements simpler.

Voter turnout among 18-24 year old in the May 2011 election was 38.8 per cent, according to Elections Canada.

But in the study, 74 per cent of those surveyed said they cast a ballot.

The study says it's common for people to overreport and Lapp notes that it's part because people who do vote are also more likely to answer surveys about voting.

The study questioned 2,665 young people over the phone, Internet and in person between May 5 and June 13.

This study marks the first time Elections Canada has treated young voters as those between the ages of 18-34, instead of 18-24.

Lapp says that's because they want to be able to track whether young voters who don't vote also stay away into young adulthood.

"There's more and more indication that the non-participation is sticking with them as they grow older," she said.