Fulfilling their civic duty... if they have to

Fewer people across Canada are rocking the vote, and it looks like student apathy is still thriving

The CBC reported this year’s voter turnout was the lowest in Canada’s history.
The CBC reported this year’s voter turnout was the lowest in Canada’s history.
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With the election over and yet another Conservative minority in place, election buzz is fading from the minds of many Canadians. But for many others, it was never there to begin with.

Voter apathy is no secret among the Canadian electorate, but this year voter turnout dropped to a record low, as reported by CBC News.

In Kingston, 58,152 people came out to vote on Tuesday, yielding a voter turnout of 61.9 per cent. But nationally and in Ontario, voter turnout was at a dismal 59.1 per cent, the lowest in history, according to results posted online by Elections Canada.

The group many point to as being the most absent from the polls is young voters, said Elizabeth Goodyear-Grant, who teaches a class called Elections.

Young voters have been a distinctly absent demographic for several elections now. Although there isn’t any data available from this recent election on voter turnout for specific groups, turnout in the 2004 federal election was 15 points lower among those aged 18 to 29, as published by Elections Canada in the January 2005 issue of Electoral Insight.

Goodyear-Grant said the reason for low turnout among youth voters isn’t that they feel excluded from the political sphere. Rather, she said, youth voter apathy reflects a much deeper problem.

“Young voters argue that politicians don’t discuss issues relevant to them, but this election I don’t think that was the case. They may feel that voting is not the best way to make a difference in politics and that there are better ways to have political influence,” she said.

But a study published in Electoral Insight entitle “Missing the Message: Young Adults and Election Issues” shows voter apathy may not reflect a change in modes of political activity—It may be an indication of a declining interest in politics altogether among young people. It claims people aged 18 to 29 rated their interest in politics at an average of 4.5 on a zero to 10 scale, as opposed to an average of 7.5 for those over the age of 60.

In terms of political awareness, the study also found young people were a highly uninformed demographic, reporting that during the final 10 days of the 2004 election campaign, 40 per cent of those in the 18 to 29 age group were not able to identify Paul Martin as the Liberal leadership candidate, 53 per cent couldn’t name the Conservative leader and 66 per cent couldn’t name the NDP leader. Just 28 per cent were familiar with the Conservative plan to eliminate the goods and services tax on family essentials.

While many fellow classmates may not have gone to the polls, Christine Wadsworth, ArtSci ’10, said she felt she had made the right decision to cast her ballot.

“Even though the results didn’t change much, I think it’s important to go out and vote,” she said.

But most young voters are simply too unfamiliar with the issues to be able to cast an educated vote, Wadsworth said. As a politics student, she said she thinks she’s more informed and more likely to vote than others.

“I think it really depends on what you’re studying and who you hang out with,” she said. “For some people, it is not as relevant to their daily life and so they’re not as interested in it.”

Natalie Rimmer, ArtSci ’10, said she didn’t vote in this election because she feels politics don’t affect her and that her vote has little impact on political activity.

“I have no interest in politics and I don’t see any drastic changes made no matter what party is in power,” she said.

“I personally find it extremely boring to watch TV and listen to what everyone’s talking about. … They’re talking about things you don’t even care about and it doesn’t relate to you.”

Rimmer said elections don’t address issues relevant to her and it’s difficult to establish an individual party’s platform from every other party’s.

“I find it hard to follow what everyone’s trying to promote,” she said. “It would be good if there was a website breaking everything down what all the parties stand for. Then it would be easier to go out and vote.

“I understand the importance of voting and I understand that I should vote, but I just don’t care enough to vote.” Low voter turnout among youth has prompted celebrities and other public figures to initiate campaigns encouraging young people to head to the polls.

In the previous U.S. election, musician P. Diddy started a campaign called “Vote or Die” aimed at young voters. P. Diddy, Mary J. Blige, Mariah Carey and other celebrities sported “Vote or die” t-shirts at major concerts and events.

In the current U.S. election, celebrities such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Halle Berry, Jennifer Aniston and Ellen DeGeneres took part in a public service announcement aimed at getting young people to vote using reverse psychology.

The video entitled “Hollywood Declares Themselves” has garnered nearly half a million hits on YouTube and features dozens of celebrities pleading viewers to not vote. The video features celebrities such as Superbad star, Jonah Hill, saying sarcastically, “Who cares?! The economy’s in the toilet, who gives a shit?! I don’t care, I’ve got so much money.”

There is also the highly publicized “Rock the Vote” campaign, which has been supported by artists such as Madonna, Lenny Kravitz and the Black Eyed Peas. Visitors to the popular website are greeted by Entourage star Adrian Grenier, and can find tips on registering to vote and setting up voter registration booths.

In Canada, comedian Rick Mercer aired a segment on his popular show The Rick Mercer Report blaming low youth voter turnout on a lack of attention from the politicians.

Mercer said, “If you’ve got one leg, two kids, you work on a farm; the parties, they have a pitch for you—unless, of course, you happen to be a student, in which case, you’re completely off the radar.” Mercer encouraged youth to vote in order to “spite” the politicians.

But it’s unclear how or if these campaigns affect voter turnout results.

Goodyear-Grant said she’s skeptical about their effectiveness.

“They don’t seem to be having an effect because voter turnout continues to decline,” she said.

But Wadsworth believes celebrity campaigns are a positive thing because of the publicity they generate.

“I think they’re good because they create visibility about the issues,” she said.

But, she said, the celebrities involved in these campaigns don’t effectively address the issues at hand.

“I don’t think they’re educated on the issues. They just get on the bandwagon.”

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