Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Youth Vote: Has the tide turned

This is from the Calgary Herald. There is the assumption in the article that the youth vote should be higher. It is not explained why this is so. Maybe it is supposed to be self-evident that in a democracy it is better that more people should vote. However if the system is designed to ensure that the capitalist class gets a government which recognises its interests as paramount it is not really that important how many people vote. In fact a lower turnout could be interpreted as a sign of contentment. I suppose the reasoning is that a higher turnout is important in giving credibility to the system and also shows that people are willing to participate in it.
But the electoral process is just one way and a limited one at that in which individuals can try to change the system according to their ideals. The two major parties are firmly wedded to the establishment and even those that are less so such as the NDP when in power provincially have been at most mildly progressive but have not really altered the system. Extra-parliamentary activity within communities is a more direct way of changing things and often more effective. I expect that those youth involved in these areas also are more likely to vote however. Probably many youth just cannot be bothered with politics because their interests are elsewhere and many also just don't think their individual vote makes much difference--which is quite true!

The youth vote: Has the tide turned?

Nathan Elliott
Calgary Herald
Saturday, October 04, 2008
The upcoming election will provide an important test of the strength of Canadian democracy as measured by voter participation. Political parties will not simply be tracking the election results, they will also be examining the number of votes cast, hoping that it is higher than in the past few elections.
Almost the entire decline in voting rates over the past two decades (61 per cent in 2004, down from 64 per cent in 2000 and 70 per cent in 1993) is the result of low voter participation by those under age 25. This decline has been of concern since the Canadian Election study conducted after the 2000 general election showed that decreased participation rates over the past 15 years had stemmed from a drop in youth turnout.
Youth taking on the role of political dropout is not a new phenomenon. As political scientist David E. Smith points out in his book The People's House of Commons, it is not a uniquely Canadian phenomenon either. Smith highlights a 1999 study by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance which found that youth voter turnout in 15 western European countries was 10 per cent lower than overall turnout.
Toward the end of the Trudeau era, first-time voters in Canada began to participate at lower rates than previous newcomers to the voting process. This trend continued during the Mulroney and Chretien years, with a major drop in first-time voter participation from around the 50 per cent level to below one-third by the late 1990s.
More recently, however, Elections Canada data for the 2006 general election showed that approximately 44 per cent of electors in the 18-24 age group voted, an improvement from the 2004 election where roughly 37 per cent of electors from that age group cast a ballot.
Despite the increase in 2006, concern still remains over youth participation rates. A key question that should be asked is: Will the upward trend continue or will it revert to lower participation levels of years past?
The bottom line is, whether it is 44 per cent or 37 per cent, youth voter turnout in Canada is still too low.

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