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National Youth Survey Report


In sections 4 and 5, the motivation and access barriers associated with non-participation in the May 2011 General Election and with non-participation in the electoral process in general have been described. This section of the report uses the findings from the National Youth Survey to examine interventions which could be undertaken by Elections Canada with the potential to increase electoral participation among Canadian youth.

The regression analysis performed with the national random sample suggests that the interventions with the most short- to medium-term potential to increase youth electoral participation are those that address access barriers. Increasing process knowledge, mitigating challenges associated with personal circumstances and removing administrative barriers to voting are all important. At the same time, addressing motivation barriers through longer-term interventions has the potential to increase voter turnout, particularly for certain subgroups.

To inform future outreach activities, the socio-demographic profile and number of youth potentially impacted by interventions to increase motivation or remove access barriers is estimated in this section of the report.

6.1 Motivation Factors and Access Barriers to Voting

A motivation index and an access index were developed based on the variables identified in the regression model as accounting for most of the variance with voting behaviour. Details of the development of the indices are provided in Appendix A.

The motivation factors accounting for most of the variance in voting behaviour were:

  • Belief that it is a civic duty for citizens to vote in elections (agreement on four-point scale)
  • Influence of politicians in general (measured on four-point scale)
  • Overall interest in the May 2011 General Election (interest on a four-point scale)
  • Number of correct answers to three questions assessing political knowledge
  • Knowing enough about the candidates to know who to vote for (agreement on a four-point scale)

The variables measuring the access barriers that accounted for most of the variance in the logistic regression model against voting behaviour were:

  • Getting to the voting location (transportation) (influence of on four-point scale)
  • Knowing when to vote (influence of on four-point scale)
  • Number of different methods of voting named (i.e. advance poll, mail, and Election's Canada office)
  • Education
  • Perception that voting in a general election is easy and convenient (agreement on four-point scale)

6.2 Locating Youth into Access and Motivation Quadrants

Motivation and access barriers have been considered in a conceptual framework25 segmenting youth voters and non-voters (Figure 6‑1). This framework provides a way of thinking about the interrelated nature of motivation and access barriers. With these two dimensions in mind, youth voters were considered as belonging to one of four groups or quadrants.26 The motivation and access indices described above were used to classify respondents from the national random sample into the quadrants.

Figure 6‑1: Overview of Barriers to Electoral Participation

High Motivation and Few Access Barriers

56% of respondents
95% Voted in 2011 General Election

Limited potential to increase participation by targeting youth in this quadrant.

High motivation will mean youth overcome access barriers.

High Motivation but Many Access Barriers

18% of respondents
67% Voted in 2011 General Election

High potential to increase electoral participation by mitigating access barriers.

Access barriers are highly influential. Increasing process knowledge will assist in overcoming barriers.

Low Motivation but Few Access Barriers

8% of respondents
60% Voted in 2011 General Election

Increasing participation of youth in this quadrant may be achieved through a long-term approach to raising motivation.

Low Motivation and Many Access Barriers

18% of respondents
19% Voted in 2011 General Election

Potential to increase electoral participation by mitigating access barriers. However, even if access barriers are removed, motivation of youth in this segment will still need to be increased before they will participate.

6.2.1 Youth in the National Random Sample

  • The largest group of respondents (56% of the national random sample) fell into the quadrant that was defined by high motivation and few access barriers (green). Voting was the norm among this group, as 95% reported voting in the May 2011 General Election.
  • Another 18% of respondents were just as motivated to vote, but faced access barriers (yellow). Although voting participation among this group was still common, at 67%, approximately one-third were motivated to vote but did not.
  • The smallest proportion of youth fell into the quadrant with few access barriers but low motivation to vote (orange). These 8% of respondents likely could have voted, but were not interested enough to exercise their democratic rights. Voting participation dropped to 60% in this group.
  • The final group was the most challenged group (red). This group, consisting of 18% of respondents, faced many access barriers, and were not sufficiently motivated to vote to overcome them. Only 19% of this group reported voting.

Since respondents to the National Youth Survey reported higher participation rates than generally considered likely among Canadian youth, it may be that respondent's answers to motivation and access questions similarly present a more optimistic profile than among their peers. Caution should therefore be applied when extrapolating the proportions in Figure 6‑1 to the general population.

6.2.2 Youth in Subgroups

With the possible exception of youth with low motivation and few access barriers (orange), the proportion of youth that fell into the quadrants changed when looking at the five subgroups (Chart 6‑1).

Chart 6‑1: Quadrant Segmentation of Subgroups

National Average
Quadrant Segmentation of Subgroups - National Average
Aboriginal Youth
Quadrant Segmentation of Subgroups - Aboriginal Youth
Ethnocultural Youth
Quadrant Segmentation of Subgroups - Ethnocultural Youth

Unemployed Youth
Quadrant Segmentation of Subgroups - Unemployed Youth
Youth with Disabilities
Quadrant Segmentation of Subgroups - Youth with Disabilities
Rural Youth
Quadrant Segmentation of Subgroups - Rural Youth


 High motivation, few access barriers
 High motivation, many access barriers
 Low motivation, many access barriers
 Low motivation, few access barriers

Text description of Chart 6-1

The difference between subgroups and the national average was readily seen by decreases in the proportion of subgroup youth in the high motivation with few access barriers quadrant (green) and increases in the proportion in the low motivation with many access barriers quadrant (red). Almost half (46%) of Aboriginal youth fell into the low motivation and many access barriers quadrant, the quadrant associated with the lowest voting participation (versus 18% falling into this quadrant for the national random sample). Youth with high motivation and many access barriers (yellow) represented about 20% of most groups, although a slightly higher proportion of ethnocultural and disabled youth fell into this quadrant.

6.3 The Number of Youth in Each Motivation and Access Quadrant

Using the proportions of youth in each quadrant and data available from Statistics Canada, the estimated size of the four quadrants within the Canadian population of youth, and within the youth populations of subgroups was calculated (Table 6‑1). The results are shown as ranges because:

  • Youth who agreed to participate in the study were more likely to have voted, and likely had increased motivation, and decreased access barriers than youth in general.27 As such, the proportions of Canadian youth that could be classified into each quadrant could only be estimated.
  • The total numbers (white row) were estimated from Statistics Canada data that did not align perfectly with the age group and subgroup definitions of the current study. In each case, youth populations were based on extrapolations of the available data.
Table 6‑1: Estimates of Quadrants and Subgroups in Canadian Population
Group National Average Aboriginal Ethno-cultural Unemployed Youth With Disabilities Rural
Estimated total Youth 8,100,000 310,000 1,300,000 540,000 500,000 1,600,000
High motivation, few access barriers 3,900,000 to 5,200,000 63,000 to 86,000 410,000 to 550,000 120,000 to 170,000 110,000 to 140,000 650,000 to 880,000
High motivation, many access barriers 1,200,000 to 1,700,000 55,000 to 75,000 290,000 to 390,000 92,000 to 124,000 120,000 to 160,000 230,000 to 310,000
Low motivation, many access barriers 1,200,000 to 1,700,000 120,000 to 160,000 300,000 to 400,000 200,000 to 270,000 160,000 to 220,000 350,000 to 480,000
Low motivation, few access barriers 550,000 to 750,000 24,000 to 32,000 120,000 to 160,000 37,000 to 50,000 34,000 to 46,000 140,000 to 180,000

Source: Statistics Canada Population Estimates for July 1, 2011, Statistics Canada 2006 Census, Participation and Activity Limitation Survey 2006, and Labour Force Information August 2011.

6.4 Cluster Analysis of Youth

Cluster analysis was used to explore the degree of homogeneity within the motivation and access quadrants. Cluster analysis is a statistical technique that places respondents into groups with others of similar scores. In this case, a cluster analysis was employed to group responding youth (from both national random and purposive samples) based on their scores on the motivation and access barriers indices.28 In this analysis five clusters provided the best segmentation. Chart 6‑2 shows the five clusters along the two indices. Further analysis was performed to indentify the characteristic of each cluster.29

Chart 6‑2: Cluster Segmentation of Canadian Youth

Cluster Segmentation of Canadian Youth

Text description of Chart 6-2

Description texte de Graphique 3-1

Clusters of youth are described below and summarized in Table 6‑2.

Table 6‑2: Youth Clusters
Group 1: Highly Motivated, few access barriers Group 2: Moderate motivation, few access barriers Group 3: Moderate motivation but many access barriers Group 4: Low motivation, moderate access barriers Group 5: Low motivation, many access barriers
30‑50% of Canadian youth
95% voted
20‑40% of Canadian youth
79% voted
8‑12% of Canadian youth
26% voted
10‑20% of Canadian youth
22% voted
3‑6% of Canadian youth
9% voted
Key Differences between Groups
More likely to be:
  • Older
  • Higher educational attainment
  • More affluent
  • 86% strongly agreed that voting is a civic duty
More likely to be:
  • Educated
  • More affluent
  • 55% strongly agreed that voting is a civic duty
More likely to be:
  • Younger
  • Aboriginal or ethnocultural, or to have a disability.
  • Only 14% agreed that voting was easy and convenient
More likely to be:
  • Less educated
  • Less affluent
  • Aboriginal or rural
  • 40% disagreed that voting was a civic duty
More likely to be:
  • Less educated and less affluent.
  • Aboriginal or to have disabilities
  • Only 34% agreed that voting was easy and convenient.
Reasons for Voting or Not Voting
This group believes strongly that voting is a civic duty and an important part of their lives.

"Because I care about social programs, laws and policies that affect my family and the people I work with."

"Exercise my democratic right."

"I am 20 years old, people my age need to set an example for others to get out and vote because it is important!"

"I felt like it was my civil duty as a Canadian citizen to let my vote count."

Of the few who did not vote, the most common reason was that they were travelling/out of their riding.

"Clerical error; wasn't allowed to vote at polling station."
Listed voting as a civic duty as their top reason for voting. Also voted to support or oppose a political party, or to express one's opinions.

"Accessibility. This time I could get a voter card and I wanted to vote."

"As a Canadian citizen it is important to express my opinion."

"I was more educated for this election which gave me confidence to vote...".

Those in this group that did not vote were too busy (at work/school all day).

"Came back from school and didn't have information on eligibility to vote."

"Did not do enough research ...."

"I totally forgot ...."
Reasons for overcoming their barriers and voting included to support or oppose a political party or candidate.

"The time was right and I was able to make it to the polls."

"Tired of conservative government not honouring Aboriginal rights!"

Non-voters were too busy or were unsure of how, when and where to vote, or simply stated that voting was not convenient.

"Busy day helping handicapped mother."

"Did not know date of election."

"I am too nervous..."

"Lack understanding of the process..."
Due to the lack of motivation to vote, those in this group who did vote often did so when encouraged by others

"Had never been interested before but thought I would try - was curious."

"It was there so I did."

"My mom motivated me to vote."

Non-voters were not interested, held negative attitudes or did not know enough about the candidates

"Because it's a waste of tax payers' money. I question candidates' real intentions."

"Both parties say the same thing, lack of campaign quality."

"Busy at work and my vote has no impact anyway."

"Disinterested and not well enough informed."
Youth in this group have trouble getting to the polling station. They didn't vote because they were too busy or didn't know enough to vote.

"Don't usually do it and not sure who to vote for!"

"I misplaced my voting slip and was told I needed it to vote."
Reaching this Group
  • Increase awareness of different ways of voting to improve access for those travelling on Election Day.
  • The internet is their main source of information about government and politics.
  • Re-enforce the importance of voting.
  • Improve awareness of different ways of voting.
  • Radio and newspapers are their main sources of information.
  • Overcome the access barriers to voting, including process knowledge, administrative factors, and coping with personal circumstances.
  • Provide more information on how, when, and where to vote. Facilitate the voting registration process by extending what is acceptable ID, and ensuring VIC delivery.
  • Information about the parties and candidates may also help to inspire this group.
  • This group is disengaged with the voting process and unlikely to seek out information. Therefore attempts to increase voting participation in this group will have to focus on reaching out to them.
  • Communications with the possibility of success may focus on the importance of voting and that it gives youth a voice.
  • Direct communications at engaged peers to encourage them to influence youth in this group to vote.
  • Radio is their main source of information.
  • A long-term approach is required that facilitates the voting process and addresses engagement.
  • Relies on friends and family as their main source of information.
  • Messages directed at their peers may help somewhat in the short- to medium-term. Communications should focus on the whole family.

6.5 Interventions

Interventions with the potential to address motivation factors and access barriers for youth non-voters are summarized in Table 6‑3.

Table 6‑3: Interventions with the Potential to Address Motivation and Access Barriers
Motivation Barriers Potential Interventions
General Attitudes Toward Politics and Democracy: Responding to negative attitudes Provide information that demonstrates the relevance of politics, democracy and the electoral process in a form appropriate for youth in general and specific target groups.
This may be effective for target groups in which youth were more likely to say they voted for reasons relating to making a change.
As the family influences youth voting especially in youth subgroups target interventions toward the family.
Interest in Politics: Increasing interest Develop materials to stimulate family discussions about politics to increase electoral participation among the next generation of voters because youth voters were more likely to have discussed politics with their families when they were growing up. It is important to ensure that any materials provided are appropriate for those with lower educational attainment.
Political Knowledge: Increasing political knowledge Changing attitudes and increasing motivation will be linked to strategies to increase knowledge about democracy and politics.
Educate youth about how to find out about the platforms of political parties. Make this information available through appropriate channels (Section 6.6). Provide targeted information such as educational products to increase political knowledge.
Access Barriers Potential Interventions
Process Knowledge: To increase knowledge Review and revise communication strategies to ensure that they effectively reach youth non-voters to inform them about when and where to vote and the different ways of voting.
Review processes for distribution of VIC to better reach youth, especially mobile youth.
Consider new ways of communicating information to youth to reach non-voters (see Section 6.6).
Develop strategies to increase awareness of all voting methods to reduce the proportion of youth who do not vote as a result of their higher mobility, absence from their riding or busy schedules.
Personal Circumstances: To reduce the impacts of personal impediments by increasing the convenience and flexibility of the voting process Make polling stations more "child friendly."
Getting to the polling station was a barrier to voting for some, especially youth living in rural localities. Develop strategies to increase awareness of other ways of voting.
Consider placing polling stations at locations likely to be frequented by youth subgroups e.g., in employment centres.
Administrative Barriers to Voting: To mitigate the actual or perceived barriers associated with the accessibility of the polling site or perceptions of the polling station Review policy on provision of ID. Lack of ID formed a significant barrier for many non-voters, and this suggests that use of the VIC as ID is an option that should be extended to all voters.30
Mobility reduces the likelihood that youth receive a VIC. Failure to receive a VIC is associated with lower participation. Consider other methods of distributing the VIC in particular, electronic methods.

6.6 Reaching Youth

Influencers, sources of information and use of the media and internet by youth were explored in the National Youth Survey. While a full analysis of effective channels for reaching youth was beyond the scope of the National Youth Survey, the survey provides a basis for Elections Canada to begin developing communications strategies to reach youth voters and non-voters.

6.6.1 Influencers

Studies of voting behaviour have emphasized three key reasons why people choose not to be politically active: because they cannot, because they do not want to be and because nobody asked. 31 Influencers have the potential to motivate youth to vote by providing reasons to vote, "asking" them to vote and telling them how to do so.

In this study, youth who voted identified the main people and groups who influenced their decision to vote as politicians in general (27%), family (21%), the media (15%) and friends and peers (11%). Youth who had not voted in the May 2011 general election were less likely to identify potential influencers. Within youth subgroups, the lack of family influencers was significantly associated with not voting for Aboriginal, ethnocultural and rural youth as well as youth with disabilities. In other words, a lack of influencers was associated with lower voting participation. Table 6.4 shows the influencers that were having less impact on the specific subgroups.

Table 6‑4: Influencers to Youth Voting
Political Influencers Having Less Impact on Target Groups
Politicians in general Aboriginal
Discussing government or politics with family Ethnocultural, youth with disabilities, less educated, low income, older youth
Talking about politics or government at home when growing up Aboriginal, rural
Family (not including partner or spouse) Unemployed, older youth
Relying on TV as main source of information Rural, parents

Social media campaigns like vote mobs were also used in the May 2011 general election to connect with young voters and mobilize youth.32 In this survey, 7% of youth voters and 5% of youth non-voters said that vote mobs had had at least some influence on their decision whether to vote or not.

6.6.2 Sources of Information

The main sources of information used by youth to find out about the election were television, media websites, blogs and other web sources.

6.6.4 The Media and the Internet

Of the national random sample, 59% of surveyed youth reported that they used the internet between one and four hours a day, 11% used it for more than four hours per day and 30% used it for less than one hour per day. This usage suggests that the internet has the potential to be an effective form of communication. Lower internet usage was associated with slightly lower voting rates (70% compared to 76%). Facebook was a key social networking site used by 87% of surveyed youth.

6.6.4 Strategies for Reaching Youth

Strategies for reaching youth are summarized in Table 6.5. Some strategies apply to all groups of youth, and others will be most effective if they target specific groups. Youth subgroups are clustered in some localities. Data from the census could be used to profile ridings to identify those with higher proportions of youth and the youth subgroups. This information could be compared with administrative data about youth voting turnout to identify the ridings with low participation rates. Targeted approaches based on the demographic profiles of youth in those ridings could then be developed.

While some strategies for reaching youth can be used directly by Elections Canada, there may also be a role for Elections Canada in providing information about the importance of, and effective ways of, reaching youth to politicians and political parties.

Table 6‑5: Strategies for Reaching Youth
Target Group Strategies
All youth Youth non-voters are more likely to have lower educational attainment. Therefore, all material must be provided in a format suitable for less-educated individuals.
Increase use of electronic channels such as Facebook, blogs, e-mails and texts to smartphones.
Social media campaigns e.g., the US YouTube video competition.33
Role models although not identified in this study as effective, role models are a common strategy used in advertising to youth.
Encourage and provide opportunities for key influencers such as politicians to provide face-to-face contact with youth.
Unemployed youth On-site contact with youth.
Future marketing and communication efforts could be directed at sites where youth with lower educational levels can be found, including:
  • Employment centres, such as Service Canada centres.
  • Programs and institutions that provide remedial and/or adult basic education programs.
  • Youth outreach centres.
Aboriginal youth Lower rates of electoral participation were identified for youth living on reserve. Reasons are likely to include a combination of lower motivation to vote as well as access barriers, such as transport to the polling station. Continuing to engage with First Nations elders is important to develop strategies to increase electoral participation by First Nations youth.
Aboriginal youth were more likely to attend community meetings and gatherings, and communication through these meetings is likely to be an effective way of reaching Aboriginal youth.
Ethnocultural youth Ethnocultural non-voters face barriers arising from the lack of process knowledge, compounded by the fact that they were less likely to receive a VIC. Information targeted to these groups describing when to vote and the different ways of voting may be of benefit. Strategies for reaching ethnocultural youth include ensuring that material is culturally appropriate. Since transportation issues were also a significant barrier to ethnocultural youth, operating polling stations in convenient locations for ethnocultural groups may also enhance participation rates.
Youth with disabilities Youth with disabilities can be reached through a number of groups and organizations for youth with disabilities. Information needs to be provided so that an individual's disability does not prevent him or her accessing the information.
Rural youth Youth living in rural areas were similar to youth in general, and thus no targeted strategies are apparent from the results of the survey.

25 Based in part on a study by the New Zealand Electoral Commission, at

26 Colours are applied to this analysis for illustrative purposes. Green is applied due to its association with "go' and red with "stop". Yellow and orange are used as colours in-between the extremes.

27 As previously noted, the proportion of respondents to surveys that voted in an election is routinely larger than the observed voting behaviour of the population.

28 Cluster analysis creates a number of groups of like-scoring respondents, but the number of groups used in the analysis is user-defined. By testing different numbers of clusters, the user can decide upon the number of clusters that seem to best segment the sample. For this analysis, cluster analysis was employed to create three, four, five and six clusters. By examining the resulting clusters, and how they identified logical segments, it was determined that five clusters provided the best segmentation.

29 Cluster analysis used the full sample (both national random and purposive samples), which includes oversamples of groups known to have motivation and access barriers to voting. As a result, ranges will be applied when extrapolating results from the National Youth Survey to the Canadian population of youth.

30 Elections Canada does not make up the core requirements of the ID policy, which are set by legislation and therefore can only be amended by Parliament.

31 Verba, S., K. Schlozman and H. Brady. Voice and Equality: Civic Voluntarism in American Politics. 1995. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

32 At

33 In the United States, celebrities and youth groups joined together to create the "Vote Again 2010" campaign, with the aim of increasing voter turnout for the mid-term elections. The campaign used social media and developed a competition to create the best YouTube video about getting involved in the political process.