In the last federal election in 2015, voter turnout was up for all age groups compared to 2011, but the largest increase was seen in first time voters and those aged between 18 to 24.
Voter turnout for that age group went up by just over 18 per cent, with 57 per cent of younger voters participating in the process.
Elections Canada says it is the largest increase for this age group since they began reporting demographic data on turnout in 2004.
Peter Loewen, professor of political science at the University of Toronto, believes Justin Trudeau had a lot to do with motivating the youth to vote, but a simpler voting process also contributed to bringing out 18 to 24 year old voters.
“I think young people realized how easy it is to vote,” he tells CityNews. “It isn’t that difficult to find a polling station, whether it’s in advance or on the day of the vote. The ID requirements are not onerous, so people can turn up to vote and it’s pretty easy.”
Making young people aware of the ease of voting is part of the strategy student groups on college and university campuses are using to encourage young people to take part.
At the University of Toronto, campaign posters and voting pop-ups can be found mimicking an actual election. However the messaging isn’t in favour of a particular party, but aimed simply at encouraging young people to participate in the voting process.
The pop-ups have students fill out ballots in which they rank the top issues that matter to them, instead of the candidates.
Napas Thein, co-founder of Participation and Advancement of Youth Civic Engagement (PAYCE) at U of T, says the goal is to help youth understand why it is important to have their voices heard and why they make a difference.
“The thing that matters is that we talk to many students and encourage them to go out and do the research and understand why voting is important,” Thein says. “And if we can just change even 10 per cent of the students’ minds who weren’t going to vote in the election then we have done our job and helped voter turn out among youth.”
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A similar campaign is underway at Ryerson University, where student leaders are trying to make the voting process less intimidating for young voters.
“It scares them to get involved, they don’t know who to vote for,” says Taylor Deasley, co-lead of the Ryerson Votes Campaign. “They don’t know where to go to ask questions and we’re trying to create the sort of environment that’s more compassionate and cooperative with students … and so it becomes a much more approachable, fun process, rather than something that they should be scared of.”
Meanwhile, which way the youth vote is swinging has seen a significant switch in recent weeks. While Trudeau may have helped bring them out in the previous election, a new poll is suggesting younger voters are leaning more toward Jagmeet Singh’s NDP in this election.
In September, 39 per cent of voters between the ages of 18 and 34 indicated their intention to vote Liberal with 22 per cent throwing their support behind the NDP.
But after the blackface controversy and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh’s strong showing following the English language debate, the NDP now hold 39 per cent of the intended youth vote according to the latest poll conducted by DART & Maru/Blue Voice Canada.
“The doubled edged sword is that he brought in all these youth to help him win the last election. If they move against him this time, then he’s in a position where he’s kind of sowed the seeds of his own demise,” says professor Loewen, which speaks to the power of the youth vote and the impact it can have.
How young people will vote will also be determined by how each federal party is addressing the issues that matter most to them.
“In our vote pop-ups we found that youth cared most about the issue of climate change followed by housing and the economy,” says Thein.
“What this represented to us was the youth perspective on climate change and housing is something that needs to be addressed by politicians.”
All four major parties have included climate change initiatives in their party platforms and are looking to tackle the issue with a combination of taxes, emissions control, research and funding.
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