No You Can’t! National Party Leaders Are Failing to Attract Young Voters

The Canadian National Election is now entering its third week. All major parties have released their platforms, the NDP being the last out of the gate yesterday. All the parties have made their promises to improve the country in a way they see fit, but they all seem fit on catering to Canadian families without much concern for the national deficit or the apathy of young voters.

Political parties always accommodate families because the conventional wisdom behind elections is that it’s the mom and dad/grandma and grandpa that get out to cast their vote. Unfortunately, this perception could not be truer. The 40th general election in 2008 saw improved voter turnout as the ages of the individuals increased. For voters aged 18 to 24 the turnout was a dismal 35% to 38.5%. At the other end of the spectrum, more than 67% of the senior citizens voted. Clearly, the political parties go after the 40 years in between and for good reason.

The Liberal Party, to Ignatieff’s credit, did promise to give a billion dollars to students to help pay school tuition fees, however, apart from that I can’t help but think that if I was young again, without any political affiliation, I would be absolutely bored to tears. Perhaps the reason young people don’t vote 65% of the time is that there is nothing for them to vote for. Young Quebecers seem to be the only exception, as their turn out rate is constantly slightly less than the overall national average.

young supporters cheering the future president

In the US election back in 2008, Barack Obama managed to capture the minds of young people with a simple slogan (Yes We Can!), a terrific online campaign and the hope (delusion in hindsight) that change was on the way. Between 22 and 24 million Americans aged 1829 turned out to vote, resulting in an estimated youth voter turnout of between 49.3% and 54.5%. Students who cast their vote were part of the largest ever group in their age bracket to support a single candidate. Obama got 66% of their vote.

So, what is the difference in Canada, bad slogans? The Conservative slogan is “Here for Canada” (really? I thought they were “Here for Mars”). The other party slogans aren’t much better either: the Liberals have “Your Family. Your Future. Your Canada (that really appeals to young Canadians) and the NDP’s is Canadian Leadership/Travaillons Ensemble (yawn). I know a party’s slogan isn’t as important as its policies, but these slogans lack any sense of excitement.

I think, the real difference in Canada is the leaders themselves. With the exception of Michael Ignatieff all the party leaders in this election have run several times before. However, even with Iggy joining the crowd, there is nothing new, nothing exciting, no flare, no “coolness” about them and therefore, nothing to attract the youth of the nation. If the leaders are waiting for this week’s debate to draw in some young supporters, I fear none of them will be watching as none of them have been given a reason to.

Estimates of voter turnout by age group in the 2008 Canadian general election

One comment

  • I’ve gt to say there were some elements in both the Liberal and NDP platforms that got me excited.

    Liberal: Student Loan forgiveness (up to $1500) for youth volunteers.
    NDP: Reduction of Small Business taxes and a cap on credit card interest rates.

    Overall you’re right though – we need a better reason to vote. You’d think that the political parties would be wild to capture some of the enthusiasm Canadian youth demonstrated over the UBB issues over the past month. They might be surprised. http://bit.ly/gmx1Ld

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