We've heard a great deal about voter apathy amongst our youth. Voter turnout and civic engagement amongst those aged 18 to 30 has been on the decline for several years. It has not only become a concern in Canada, but in other Western democracies as well. It is a topic debated by the media, governments and politicians, even the entertainment industry, in an effort to identify ways to motivate our youth into becoming actively engaged.
A survey-based study published by Elections Canada in 2003, found that in the 2000 Federal election, the number one predictor of whether someone voted was age. Furthermore, the study found that only 38.2 per cent of eligible voters aged 25 to 29 came out to vote, while 27.5 per cent of eligible voters aged 21 to 24 came out to vote. For those aged 18 to 20, the numbers fell again with only 22.4 per cent turning out.
Some scholars have theorized that this lack of interest amongst our youth is only cyclical and that this is merely a trend that will eventually pass, while others make the case that youth are actually more involved than we may think by actively volunteering in non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that focus on specific political causes such as human rights, the environment, and poverty instead of voting in elections.
The entertainment industry has picked up on the concern of voter apathy amongst our youth by launching campaigns to bring out the youth vote. For example, in the 2004 U.S. presidential elections, American celebrities joined together to “Rock the Vote,” which was deemed successful in registering over a million voters. However, it is unknown how many actually made it out to the polls on Election Day.
Some are more hopeful that the next generation, often referred to as “Millennials” (those born in the 1980s and 1990s) are demonstrating improved signs of respect for government and view this as a reason for hope.
Schools and educational systems are also doing their part to engage youth by offering civics courses and requiring volunteer hours as part of the school curriculum. It is hoped that if youth are mobilized and involved in various clubs and volunteer activities, they will be more aware of important issues and will, therefore, be more inclined to participate in the electoral process. However, the actual long term impact of these efforts remains to be seen.
Another change in our society is the number of young adults aged 20 to 29 who are still living at home or have moved back home. It has been argued that as youth age and embark on events associated with adulthood such as marriage, employment, and home-ownership, they become politically engaged. Since these youth are staying at home longer, the argument follows that this group is putting off these life milestones, therefore decreasing their participation in the political process.
Each of the above arguments offer something to the broader debate of voter apathy amongst youth in Western democracies; however, none of the arguments can completely or solely explain the decreasing interest amongst youth in the political system and democratic institutions. It can be said that civic engagement and voter turnout amongst youth is shaped by many things, including life events and various circumstances. Maybe interest in voting can begin with something as simple as family discussions about current events and news or why we vote. It's an easy first step that we can all do to reach out to our youth.