Youth not voting most lean to far left politically, says study

Dene Moore
National Affairs Contributor
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Photo: The Canadian Press

Estimates vary, but as few as one in three young voters bothers to go down to the polling station on election day.

The abysmal turnout among Millennials in the last two federal elections has been singled out to Elections Canada as one of the main culprits in the overall demise in voting numbers.

But the problem is not that young voters are any less civically engaged or politically aware than their older compatriots.

There is a generational divide between Canadians under age 35 and those over, says the study released Friday by the Broadbent Institute.

“When we ask why they don’t vote, a lot of them say the biggest reason is not because they don’t know about politics,” David McGrane, a professor of political science at the University of Saskatchewan and author of the report, tells Yahoo Canada News.

“They know every bit as much as older Canadians. They know where to vote; they know how to vote.”

But young voters across the country tend to lean to the left of the political spectrum, says McGrane, who was among a team that surveyed more than 8,100 voters across the country over the past four years.

They are more socially progressive and they’re looking for an activist government, says his report. They support social spending and they’re in favour of higher taxes if it means better public services.

Compared to older Canadians, they are less likely to favour economic growth over the environment. Health and education are priorities for them, not crime and justice, McGrane says.

“So, they’re really describing a policy agenda and a set of political priorities that I think are quite different from Stephen Harper,” he says.

“I see this as an opportunity for the opposition parties.”

That’s not to say that Millennials are a homogenous group.

University-educated young voters, those living in big cities, and those in Ontario or British Columbia tended to be further to the left than those without post-secondary and others living in small cities or rural areas, surveys found. Youth in Manitoba, too, tended to lean more to the right of the ideological spectrum.

Veronica Campbell, spokeswoman for the group Youth Vote Canada, says the survey results are not surprising.

“Youth don’t feel like politicians speak to the issues they care about, that’s partly why we can sometimes feel like it’s ‘us’ versus ‘them,’” she tells Yahoo Canada News.

“We’re looking at youth who are informed and who are engaged, but they don’t necessarily trust the current political system, the current political environment to enact change,” says Campbell, whose group hopes to host their own leadership debate during the upcoming federal campaign.

A 2011 study for the government of Canada found less than 39 per cent of eligible voters aged 18-24 cast ballots in the last federal election.

Another 2011 study for Elections Canada found just slightly more than 30 per cent of Canadians eligible to vote for the first time actually went to the polls.

With a federal election due this year, the report says tapping into young voters has the potential to transform the political landscape.

“You get those progressive young people to get out a vote, you’re going to radically change the way politics is done in Canada. If they would vote at the same rate that older people do in Canada, we would have a very different type of politics,” McGrane says.