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National Youth Survey Report


The National Youth Survey provided insights into the main factors underlying the decision by Canadian youth to participate or not in the May 2011 general election and in elections in general.

When youth were asked about all elections since they had been eligible to vote, approximately 46% in the national random sample were habitual voters, 20% were frequent voters, 21% were occasional voters and 13% were habitual non-voters. Slightly fewer than three quarters (74%) reported that they had voted in the May 2011 general election. However, when considering these participation rates, it is important to note that surveys consistently overestimate participation, when compared to data on voter turnout.

Education was associated with voting in the general election, with higher participation by those with higher educational attainment. However, education was highly correlated with other factors associated with higher voting participation, such as older age, increased motivation, increased political knowledge and increased exposure to influencers. Thus, education likely underlies many of the variables that drive voting behaviour (such as knowing how to vote and discussing politics with family). Lower income was also associated with lower voting rates.

Barriers to participation in the 2011 general election were considered in terms of motivation (attitudes, interest and political knowledge) and access (knowledge of the electoral process, personal circumstances and administrative barriers). Both motivation factors and access barriers were significantly associated with voting behaviour in the recent general election.

The most commonly provided main reason for voting related to the importance of voting – as a civic duty or to express opinions and views. The main reason for not voting in the general election, provided by 64% of non-voters, related to access, including being at school or work, or looking after children.

Key motivation barriers to not voting included a belief that all political parties were the same, the lack of a party speaking to issues relevant to the youth, less agreement that it was a civic duty to vote and lack of political interest and knowledge.

Non-voters were more likely to have had difficulty getting to the polling station. Administrative barriers included difficulty in providing ID. Youth non-voters were more likely to think that voting in a federal election was not easy or convenient. Some voters also experienced barriers to casting a ballot. Not knowing about different ways to vote and not knowing where or when to vote were the electoral process barriers most strongly associated with non-voting. Receiving a VIC may have helped provide the needed information as those who received a VIC were more likely to have voted.

Youth who had voted reported being influenced by politicians (especially by direct contact with a party or candidate), the media and family. They were also more likely to have discussed politics with their family both while growing up and at that time.

7.1 Electoral Participation by Subgroups

Participation in the 2011 general election was explored for five subgroups of youth: Aboriginal, ethnocultural, unemployed, those with disabilities and those living in rural localities.

Participation by Aboriginal (First Nations or Inuit but not M้tis) and unemployed youth was substantially less (each at 42%) than for the total voting rates in the national random sample (74%). Participation by youth with disabilities (55%), ethnocultural youth (61%) and those living in rural localities was also lower than for the national random sample.

Youth in the subgroups differed from youth in the national random sample. The groups studied appear to have motivation barriers arising from less political knowledge, less interest in Canadian politics, less belief that government plays a role in their lives, less belief that voting makes a difference and less belief that there is a political party that talks about issues important to them.

Access barriers were also more prevalent. Youth in subgroups were less aware of electoral processes, less likely to have received a VIC and less likely to think that they would feel welcome at the polling station.

Within each subgroup, when youth voters and non-voters were compared, both motivation factors and access barriers significantly influenced voting participation. Within all subgroups, non-voters' lack of interest in the election was a key predictor of their voting behaviour.

Aspects of knowing where, when or different ways to vote were associated with non-voting by youth in the subgroups (with the exception of youth with disabilities). Not receiving a VIC was significantly associated with not voting for ethnocultural, unemployed and youth with disabilities. Other common barriers among subgroups included difficulty in getting to the polling station (all but youth with disabilities – where perhaps both voters and non-voters are challenged by mobility issues).

Other characteristics influencing low participation were specific to particular groups, including:

  • Being First Nations or Inuit or living on reserve (Aboriginal youth).
  • Using television as a main source of information (ethnocultural youth).
  • Being less knowledgeable about politics (youth with disabilities and rural youth).

In the bivariate analysis, youth from subgroups appeared to have fewer influencers. In the regression analysis, lack of family influence on decisions about whether or not to vote was a significant barrier to voting for all youth in all subgroups, with the exception of unemployed youth.

7.2 Interventions with the Potential to Increase Electoral Participation

A regression analysis performed with the national random sample clearly demonstrated that both motivation and access barriers influence youth voting. Interventions with potential to increase youth electoral participation in the short to medium term are those that address access barriers. Increasing process knowledge, mitigating challenges associated with personal circumstances and removing administrative barriers to voting are all important. Although increasing youth motivation to vote is more difficult than mitigating access barriers, there are still actions that can be taken to reduce these barriers in the long term. Youth who had positive attitudes toward politics and democracy, or who were interested in and knowledgeable about politics, were more likely to vote than less motivated youth.

7.3 Recommendations

Some interventions apply to all youth, while others will be most effective if they target specific groups. Youth subgroups are clustered in some localities – for example, ethnocultural youth in large metropolitan centres. Similarly, there is a high concentration of Aboriginal youth in the North, although there are also many Aboriginals living in the South. It is recommended that Elections Canada use census data to demographically profile ridings and implement interventions specifically targeted to the demographic profiles of youth in those ridings. Priority could be given to ridings identified as having a relatively lower turnout of youth voters.

Interventions with the potential to have the most immediate impact are those that will target access barriers; they include:

  • Increase the information provided to youth non-voters about how, when and where to vote. Provide this information in a format suitable for youth with lower educational attainment and in a culturally appropriate form for Aboriginal and ethnocultural youth.
  • Increase awareness of methods of voting other than going to the polling station, especially for youth with disabilities and youth in rural localities.
  • Review policy on the provision of ID and proof of address. Lack of ID or proof of address formed a significant barrier for many non-voters and suggests that use of the VIC as ID is an option that should be extended to all voters.34
  • Receipt of a VIC was associated with increased participation, but the effect is likely to be a result of the VIC reminding youth about the election or of the information contained in it. Consider:
    • Promotions or reminders about obtaining a VIC on social media sites, including Facebook and/or other internet sites.
    • Further exploring the option of electronically distributing voter cards through online media to allow individuals to receive voter cards electronically (text messages to cellphones, e-mails, etc.).
  • In localities where there are high proportions of less well-educated youth (as identified by the demographic profiling of ridings), consider locating polling stations where youth are likely to be and consider how to make them more welcoming to youth.
  • Develop strategies to ensure that polling stations are "child-friendly" to mitigate access barriers for parents. Localities where there are high proportions of parents, especially single parents, can be identified through census data.

Mitigating motivation barriers will require longer-term strategies:

  • Develop communications strategies to increase youth knowledge about politics and democracy in Canada. Increased knowledge will be associated with increased engagement of youth non-voters with the democratic process. Facilitate this process by providing information about politics and democracy that targets issues relevant to youth, particularly youth in the subgroups.
  • Educate youth about how to find out which views political parties or candidates might hold on issues that are important to them. Make this information available through appropriate channels.

7.3.1 Influencers

  • Conduct a review of the evidence about effective ways to influence behavioural change in youth, and incorporate this information into strategies to increase youth voting.
  • In general, youth non-voters reported fewer influencers on their decision to vote or not. If appropriate, consider promoting the importance of engaging with youth to all political parties and candidates.
  • Family had an important role within subgroups in influencing youth to vote. Target parents with messages about the importance of talking to their children about voting and providing their children with information about when, where and how to vote.

7.3.2 Reaching Youth Non-voters

  • Educational attainment should be considered in all forms of communication aiming to increase youth electoral participation. In this context, future marketing and communications efforts should be directed to sites where youth with lower educational levels may 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
  • Youth, both voters and non-voters, were high users of the internet and the Facebook social networking site. Material placed on Facebook and other internet sites, therefore, has the potential to attract the interest of youth.

7.3.3 Further Research

Qualitative research, such as focus groups with identified non-voters in subgroups, is recommended to explore more fully the context around the barriers identified to voting and potential solutions. Examples might include:

  • What characteristics would make polling stations feel welcoming or otherwise?
  • What would make polling stations child-friendly?
  • What is the role of different influencers, and what makes them effective or otherwise?
  • What would it take for non-voters to change their attitudes toward voting?

34 Elections Canada does not make up the core requirements involved in this policy, which is legislated and must be amended by the legislator.