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Who will harness the youth vote?
Written by
Shanti Cosentino

Shanti Cosentino

Youth is one of Canada’s largest voting demographics. With only 54 percent of young people aged 18-24 voting in the 2019 election, engaging this segment could be the key to swaying party success, while not doing so would be a missed opportunity.

NATIONAL is proud to work with Apathy is Boring, a non-partisan, charitable organization that supports and educates youth to be active and contributing citizens in Canada’s democracy. The organization has been fundamental in understanding what leads to apathy among youth voters—and how best to engage them.

Why do some youth not vote?

Every election cycle, we see a persistent narrative that young voters don’t want to be engaged or are apathetic but that’s simply false. According to research Apathy is Boring conducted with Abacus Data, since 2019, there has been a 10 per cent increase in interest for Canadian politics amongst youth.

The reluctance to vote often lies in the trust with formal institutions, especially their role in making a measurable impact on the issues that youth care about.

According to Samantha Reusch, executive director at Apathy is Boring, “many find the system inaccessible or hostile to their participation in general. And, therefore, they don’t feel equipped or welcome to participate in elections when they come around.”

Who is engaging youth?

Most federal parties have already been seen tooling their platforms towards issues that matter to a younger demographic. Indeed, the climate crisis, economic recovery, costs of education, and social equality are trending priorities for young people.

The NDP has outlined several propositions aimed at attracting young voters, including lowering the voting age to 16, increased social inclusion, programs for Indigenous and LGBTQ+ youth, post-secondary financial support, and a plan to engage young people in the fight against climate change. These electoral promises, along with Jagmeet Singh’s interactions with young people on social media, have led to the NDP leader thus far outperforming other leaders among youth voters. This takes away a demographic instrumental to Trudeau and the Liberals’ 2019 success.

The Liberal Party has historically held a significant portion of the youth vote since the 2015 election. With its recently announced platform, the most impactful youth-centric message is arguably its housing plan. The three-point plan comes with a narrative that each young person should be able to buy a home, a concept that seems foreign to so many of them currently. This was proposed alongside significant investments in youth-led grassroots organizations, climate change mitigation, gender and diversity initiatives, and mental health supports.

The Conservative Party’s platform emphasized economic recovery for industries in which youth have been particularly impacted. The gig economy and service industry support speaks directly to youth who are recovering from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the Bloc Québécois’ platform focuses on identity issues and environment, it does not emphasize youth-centric issues specifically. As expected, the Green Party has focused on the climate crisis and guaranteed basic income in its electoral promises but have yet to release a full platform.

What’s the trick?

While party platforms can speak to youth issues, getting young people to the polls will continue to be the biggest barrier. Changing this can be achieved through:

  • Engaging with them face-to-face
  • Utilizing platforms where young people are present
  • Speaking to youth on issues that matter to them
  • Making the voting process seem as accessible as possible
  • Allowing young people to feel heard and respected

There is a sentiment among young people that their vote will not make a difference. It is time for political parties to prove them wrong and harness the support of Canada’s youth voting demographic.

Educational resources for first-time voters:

Consult our 2021 Federal Election section to get the latest perspectives from our experts.

——— Shanti Cosentino is a former Consultant at NATIONAL Public Relations