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Explaining the Turnout Decline in Canadian Federal Elections: A New Survey of Non-voters


13. Further Age Cohort Analysis

We looked earlier in this report (tables 2930) at the sense of "civic duty" among Canadians, on the grounds that such a feeling underlies consistent electoral participation for many of those who vote regularly. The responses to this item are examined in greater detail in Table 59, which breaks the answers down by age cohorts. The sense of civic duty was much more evident among older respondents. A noticeable drop-off in the belief in civic duty with respect to voting occurs among the cohorts entering the electorate from 1993 onward. An approximately equal number of respondents (37.4 percent overall) believe that voting in elections, if not "essential", is at least "very important". While these two categories together account for nearly three quarters of responses to this item, it is clear that not as many respondents in the younger age groups share these views. Respondents feeling that voting is only "somewhat important" or "not at all important" tend to be concentrated in the younger age groups. This suggests that the belief that voting constitutes a "civic duty" may be declining in more recent generations.



Table 59 Perceived Importance of Voting in Elections, by Age Cohorts (percentages)


  (68+) (58–67) (48–57) (38–47) (30–37) (25–29) (21–24) (18–20) Total
Essential
40.6
42.9
48.8
37.6
36.2
28.8
22.0
27.6
35.4
Very important
49.3
40.8
34.4
36.5
32.2
37.1
38.4
42.4
37.4
Somewhat important
6.5
7.6
12.0
20.1
26.4
26.2
31.0
21.8
20.6
Not at all important
2.9
5.4
4.0
5.2
4.7
7.5
7.1
8.2
5.7
Don't know/No answer
0.0
3.3
0.8
0.6
0.5
0.4
1.6
0.0
0.9
N = 
V = 
89
0.25
184
250
348
401
267
255
170
2 014



Finally, we asked respondents whether they were likely to vote in the next federal election. This is an easy question to which to give a positive response, since it involves little real commitment. We would expect that only determined non-voters would respond negatively.10 Seen in this light, the response patterns are not encouraging. Slightly under 20 percent of all respondents indicate that they would be unlikely to vote.




Table 60 Attitudes Toward Voting and Elections, by Age Cohorts (percentages)


  (68+) (58–67) (48–57) (38–47) (30–37) (25–29) (21–24) (18–20) Total V
Not likely to vote in next federal election
V
1.0
3.7
1.2
2.7
1.7
1.1
4.1
0.0
2.0
 
NV
42.9
30.6
38.8
43.1
32.4
39.5
35.1
20.3
34.8
 
All
11.5
10.9
14.0
21.3
18.9
26.5
29.0
17.6
19.7
0.11




10 The responses "not very likely" and "not at all likely" are combined for purposes of analyzing this item.


The percentage rises to over a third among non-voters in the 2000 election. And, it tends to be highest among the young middle-age groups, suggesting that the patterns of not voting characterizing recent elections may continue well into the future. While there is, of course, considerable fluctuation in not voting at the individual level from one election to another, these results may be read as suggesting that, for a considerable number of respondents, not voting is a deliberate act and not merely a function of busy work schedules or short-term pressures.