News / Toronto

Youth and new Canadians drove voter turnout surge during 2015 federal election

In an election with the highest turnout in over 20 years, young voters and new immigrants turned out in near-record numbers.

A man casts a federal ballot in Montreal during the 2015 federal election.

Canadian Press

A man casts a federal ballot in Montreal during the 2015 federal election.

The surge in voter turnout during the 2015 federal election was driven largely by young people and new Canadians.

Sixty-seven per cent of voters ages 18 to 24 cast a ballot in October, compared to only 55 per cent in 2011, according to data released Monday by Statistics Canada. A similar spike was observed among Canadians who’ve had citizenship for less than a decade — 70 per cent said they voted last year, versus 56 per cent in 2011.

The increased turnout may have more to do with the specifics of the election — which ousted the Conservatives and propelled Justin Trudeau and the Liberals to power — than a renewed sense of political participation, experts say.

“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that turnout was up among young people when both the Liberals and the NDP were looking very strong,” said Ryerson University politics professor Daniel Rubenson. “Young people tend not to support the Conservative Party.”

It also helped that Trudeau ran an “upbeat” campaign and was cast as a youthful alternative to established politicians, said York University professor Dennis Pilon.

“People like to see people like themselves in the political system,” he said.

It’s incumbent on politicians to ensure high turnout among youth and immigrants isn’t just a blip, Pilon said.

“If we want to keep youth voting up, if we want to keep multicultural voting up, then we need to address the serious economic problems those groups are facing,” he said. “A government that would take up youth employment, for example, in a serious way would recruit a solid base of supporters.

“It would make those people say ‘politics matters.’”

Other strategies to increase turnout could include lowering the voting age, adopting a proportional representation system, or even making voting mandatory, Pilon said.

“The evidence from countries that use compulsory voting is that it’s more inclusive,” he said. “Political parties have to think of the different kinds of voters who will show up and craft policies to cater to them.”

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