Youth voters have long been underrepresented at the polls. Usually, it is taken as a sign of
teenage apathy. However, voter turnout statistics don’t show the many nuances and factors
that affect how young people participate in politics.

According to a study by Elections Canada, only 53 per cent of voters aged 18 to 24 cast a
ballot during the 2019 election. In contrast, roughly 79.1 per cent of seniors aged 65 to 74
voted in the same year.

Moreover, this decline in youth voters can be observed across the generations. According to
Elections Canada, the number of young people voting has been decreasing steadily. From
youth voter turnout of 76 per cent from before 1980 and reaching its lowest point at 59 per
cent in 2008.

The significance of these numbers is that voting, as a 2016 policy brief commissioned by the
Canadian government discusses, is habitual. Those who begin voting younger tend to retain
the habit as they age. Consequently, low youth voting numbers could indicate a slow decline
in voter turnout statistics in future elections.

Elections Canada offers a potential solution to the falling youth voter stats. The Vote on
Campus program was a project developed by Elections Canada for the 2015 election to make
voting easier on students. Voting centres were set up in post-secondary campuses that
allowed students to fill out special ballots. These ballots were designed for those voting
outside their riding.

The program made it more convenient for busy students to vote in the election.
The jump in youth voter turnout numbers between the 2011 and 2015 elections can partly be
attributed to that program. The statistics rose from 61.1 to 68.3 per cent.

The program was cancelled for the 2021 election. There were two reasons for this: One, the
program has traditionally been organized under a majority government. This year, operating
under a minority government has made scheduling difficult. Booking the needed space so last
minute would result in a number of conflicts and cancellations.

Elections Canada stated in an email, concerning the Vote On Campus program:

“It has never been delivered in a minority government context, where no clear dates can be provided to
campus administrators.”

The second is the pandemic. The program would take up much-needed space for social
distancing. So for safety reasons, it could not be offered this year.

Time constraints are a significant challenge for younger voters. Data gathered from Statistics
Canada reported that during the 2011 election, roughly 12 per cent of young voters reported
being too busy to cast a ballot. With 8 per cent attributing it to work and school conflicts.

Then again, time is only one of the many barriers discouraging youth from voting.

A third-year media studies student, Megan Tranpham did not vote in the 2019 election or the 2021 election. She says that it’s due to a lack of information. She says she feels like the elections are poorly promoted and finds it hard to find accessible information on what the issues are. Statistics seem to support this. Numbers obtained from Statistics Canada reveal that during the 2011 election one in six survey participants state feeling uninformed about Canadian politics.

Tranpham notes that for her, at least, much of her political knowledge comes second hand
from her parents. Who consume more traditional news sources, such as broadcast TV,
sources that she rarely frequents. She adds that while social media can be another source of
political news, she rarely comes across it in her feeds.

Social algorithms, systems that carefully curate what appears in user feeds, can contribute to
political unawareness. As those who are already disinterested are unlikely to come across any
information or news about elections.

It also may point to how socialization plays a major role in youth voters’ views on politics. In
a 2008 study conducted on Ontario Highschool students, research reveals that voters are
likely to be friends with other voters. Entire friend groups often share similar views of the
importance of civic participation.

Moreover, Tranpham says she does not feel listened to by politicians. She says that she feels
like student issues, like minimum wage, are often overlooked. Most importantly, she says she
feels like politicians make little to no effort to connect with youth voters at all.

The exception is Jagmeet Singh, the leader of the New Democratic Party, Tranpham says.
Singh has a Tik Tok account with over eight thousand followers. He often combines popular
Tik Tok trends with campaign promises and insight into Canadian issues. The result of which
makes him and his videos appealing to younger voters.

“I respect Jag a lot for doing that,” Tranpham says.

On a similar note, Kyle Calalang, says the way politics are discussed is often dull and it is
hard for him to be interested. He adds that political debates are often long-winded and bogged
down with jargon.

Calalang, the Ignite representative for Media Studies students, also has political aspirations.
He hopes to become Mayor of Mississauga in the future as he is frustrated with the current
state of civic affairs. He thinks there should be less talking and more action.

“Too much talking,” he says. “Everyone should talk less.”

Calalang, also states that social media is an important tool for connecting to younger voters.
While algorithms largely decide what people see on their pages, it’s important to learn how to
navigate the online space to reach potential voters. As Media Rep., one of his many duties is
to manage an Instagram account so that he is reachable to his constituents.

His activism is also indicative of a noticeable shift in how younger voters approach civic
participation. The 2016 policy brief mentions how while youth were less likely to vote, they
were more likely than their older counterparts to take part in other political activities. Such as
organizing protests, attending rallies and volunteering.

Indicating that youth voter turnout numbers tend to show an incomplete view of how truly
politically active young people are.

However, Calalang still emphasizes the importance of voting.

He says: “I’m confident that I’ll vote every year. One vote can make a difference.”