Elections. Politicians perk up their ears to the latest issues. News outlets scavenge the podiums for scraps of gossip.
Living in a world primarily consisting of Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and the occasional five hours of sleep, I barely noticed that it was election season. I still needed to go online and find out when the voting date was—in case you’re wondering, it’s October 19.
If you’re as indifferent as I am to the Canadian political scene, then we’re both a part of the cynical majority of youth voters who’ve been puzzling political scientists since the late 80s.
Dr. Peter Loewen, an assistant political science professor at UTM, published a report for Elections Canada detailing the problem of youth voters, where he describes our generation as educated, secular, and constantly on the move. Perhaps that is what also makes us so elusive to political parties. Unlike our locked-down parents and grandparents, we have the power to pick up and go wherever we want with virtually nothing stopping us.
The other powerful issue Loewen brings up in his conclusion is the “issue of new technologies”. He talks about how youth voters may be more inclined to go online to vote rather than cast ballots physically and the problems with being able to reach us without the Internet.
Most of the students that I interviewed on campus ran away when I brought up politics—even a political science major.
“I never know what’s going on and I never cared to find out,” said Ariba Haider, a second-year professional writing and communication major. “Maybe now that I’m 18 I should find out,” she added. “I never felt important until now.”
The common myth is that youth voters don’t vote because they don’t care. But that’s not true at all. In fact, according to the 2015 “Message Not Delivered” study by Samara Canada (a charity dedicated to researching civic engagement), Canadian youth participate 11 percent more in 18 other forms of political action than their older counterparts.
Then why did only 41 percent of voters under 30 vote in the 2011 elections? Well, this time, the parties may be at fault. Samara Canada says that voters under 30 are far less likely to be contacted by a politician or political party. And direct contact, as it so happens, has some of the greatest impact on voters of all ages.
The last time I got any kind of message from a political party was when the Conservatives called my landline asking for the homeowner—not even considering that I might be of voting age. But hey, it’s not like Stephen Harper can shoot me a text with something along the lines of “running 4 elections lol pls vote” (although if he did, I’d probably notice).
As far as voting at UTM goes, Student Life is hosting an event called “U of T Votes”, based on the Democracy Week hosted by Elections Canada. “It’s about creating awareness that through voting we have the power to effect change in our country, and that we should be engaged in that process,” says Marlo Young-Sponga, Student Life’s Community Engagement Activity Assistant, and a fourth-year double major in anthropology and professional writing.
“I think many students see voting as more trouble than it’s worth,” she adds. “[They] have busy lives where almost all their actions will have more immediate rewards or consequences than voting or not voting. In addition to the ambiguity around the impact of one vote, there is the issue of access to polling stations; many students aren’t sure where and when and how they should vote.”
The only political party present on campus currently is the UTM Liberals Club. In desperation, I even looked for a Communist Club, to no avail.
However, Young-Sponga doesn’t believe that politically-affiliated clubs are the solution to increasing civic engagement on the UTM campus. “We need clubs that support healthy debate and constructive conversations around important issues, rather than clubs that focus on extolling the opinions of a particular affiliated party,” she says.
“As students, citizens, and the next generation, we have a responsibility to take an active role in directing that change,” adds Young-Sponga. “We must also acknowledge the vast privilege and opportunity we have to live in a democratic country, and we should not squander that opportunity.”
The youth vote is probably one of the most powerful demographics to take right now. The fact that parties aren’t fighting to the teeth over such a huge vote is dismaying.
Loewen suggests putting forth a variety of approaches and seeing what works. After all, this is the age of information, where both smartphone and computer use is rampant—politics shouldn’t seem all that far away from voters if most of us have a smartphone and some bus fare.
This article has been corrected from the print edition. The online version was not specifically credited to Anton Mykytenko.