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From the OJEN Blog

Are Youth More Engaged in This Election, or Am I Imagining Things?

It’s election time and after 75 days of the campaign, I’ve almost reached the limit of how much political conversation I can engage in happily.  Still, the last several weeks have been interesting and I’ve exchanged views with lots of people about issues and values that I might not otherwise have done.  Surprisingly, some of these people were my kids…and their friends.  When I say “kids”, they are really young adults – 20 and 23 respectively.   And when I say “surprisingly”, it’s because usually, when I bring up anything vaguely political they roll their eyes and beg me not to “get started on that again”!

So imagine my astonishment when I got home from work one evening a couple of weeks ago and walked into a phone conversation my daughter was having with a friend that went like this:

“I’m getting Peter and Anthony to vote,” she was saying. “Peter’s never voted before but I told him this time he has to.”  The gist of the call seemed to be about their plans to get out the youth vote.

I was intrigued!  Is there something different about this election?  Are there issues that are resonating with younger people?

Later, I asked my daughter what issues she was particularly interested in. She is in her last year of an undergraduate program and said she’s concerned about the high cost of tuition and the lack of good jobs for young people entering the job market.  This is a topic we’ve discussed on a number of occasions.  She feels very anxious about the level of debt she’s incurring through student loans.  At a point where she’s trying to decide whether or not to go on to post-graduate studies, the question she and many other young people are facing is, “Will it improve my chances of getting a good job to go further into debt to get a Master’s degree?  Or should I take my chances joining the growing ranks of under-employed, university educated youth looking for opportunities to use their education in a slowing economy”?

My son, who is just starting his post-secondary education, has the same concerns.  The level of insecurity they both feel toward the economic future of the country makes taking on the staggering costs of post-secondary education a frightening prospect.

I thought I’d investigate a little further, so I asked my daughter’s friend, Paige, about how she became so engaged in this election campaign.  Taking a university political science course a few years ago started her on the road to political awareness, she said.  “It was during that class that I started becoming more aware of political issues and realized I felt quite strongly about some of them. Over the last four years I’ve been paying closer attention to political issues, and have become increasingly dissatisfied with our current government, so I’m very interested in this election, and want to see change.”

What issues does she feel strongly about?  She too has concerns about the high costs of tuition and jobs for youth.  Having recently graduated from university, she adds unpaid internships to the list of youth related issues she’s interested in seeing addressed.  But add to these, concerns about the environment, social programs, funding for the arts, government transparency and individual rights.

So are their friends also engaged in this election, I asked them?  Of my daughter’s friends – not that many.  Paige says it’s about 50/50.  My son never discusses the election with his friends.

When I ask why they think more of their friends don’t plan to vote, my son says it’s because they don’t think their vote matters very much.

“Why are you voting,” I asked him?

“In school they always told me voting is the duty of citizens in a democracy,” he tells me.

“I know that the youth vote in Canada is astonishingly low, and if this was improved then the political landscape would change. I want young people to show an interest in politics so that leaders will address our issues and take them seriously,” says Paige.

And she and my daughter are taking action to try to do just that.  “I mostly use social media to try engage more people. I post a lot of articles on Facebook in hopes of catching people’s attention and making them aware of certain issues,” Paige tells me. “I’ve also organized an election night party for people to come together after the polls close and watch the results. I’m hoping it will help them see this election as an exciting event for them to take part in, instead of feeling disinterested or disengaged.”

Now that the campaign is finally winding down and the vote will be in just a few day, I will be interested to see if youth have actually been more engaged during this election or if it is just a phenomenon among the ones I happen to know.  With approximately 50% of eligible youth voters not participating in recent elections, their engagement in the process would certainly have an impact.


Nadine Demoe

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