Why has such attention been directed lately to the political and civic behaviour of the young? The idea originates from evidence suggesting that recent declines in voter turnout stem from dropping turnout rates among the youngest Canadians.
This problem has produced a significant amount of debate directed at trying to uncover the reasons behind the lack of youth political and civic engagement. The general idea from the discussions suggests that young people are “either apathetic (at best) or alienated (at worst)” from the political system.
Without question, the area receiving a significant amount of media attention in the field of political behaviour is voter turnout. The key reason for this increased attention is the worrisome decline in voter turnout that has appeared in Canada and elsewhere. Beginning in the late 1980s, turnout in Canada dropped from 75.3% in the 1988 federal election to a low of 60.9% in the 2004 federal election (Elections Canada stats). Levels of political knowledge are no doubt related to the effort required in trying to stay abreast of political events. Young people in Canada appear to pay less attention to news on a daily or weekly basis than older Canadians.
Television and the newspaper appear to be the first and second choices for a source of news information among all age groups. The Internet is used as a news source as well, but it is much more likely to be used by young Canadians.
Could the issue of voter turnout simply be because of increased political cynicism or unhappiness with the political system? Less political knowledge among young Canadians, while potentially an indicator of political apathy, does help to explain drops in electoral participation. The point is often made that the sense of having incomplete or, worse, very little knowledge of politics and political issues is usually behind the decision not to vote. How do we correct or improve all of this?
The manner in which new technologies are changing the methods employed for political expression has become great topics for debate. Cell phones have provided a new avenue for political action, for example, in the form of instant text messaging, or SMS. Text messaging and applications such as Twitter have been credited with mobilizing and with boosting youth turnout in other foreign elections, particularly in the United States. Similarly, the Internet has brought about a huge revolution in access to information and in communication. This revolution has had it greatest impact on the young.
The widespread use of applications such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube may not only generate more interest in politics among our youth and improve voter turnout, but it could potentially form the basis of electoral reform that so many Canadians are wishing for. This could result in better voter turnout among all age groups, which would greatly improve our Canadian democracy in general. Some of our political leaders are embracing these tools to reach out to voters. It will be interesting to see how much of an impact it really has on Election Day.
– Todd Midgley
Electrical Engineering Technician ’91