by Kara Johancsik
If you’re running for MP in October’s election, here’s a challenge for you: go talk to youth voters.
During the last federal election, 1.9 million out of the 2.9 million eligible youth-aged voters didn’t vote. In the Yukon, only 38 per cent of eligible voters aged 18-24 turned up at the polls.
There are a few good reasons the Yukon’s federal candidates should care about the youth vote. Young Canadians are facing some of the highest rates of unemployment in decades. They have staggering student debt. Young aboriginal people are the fastest growing demographic in the country, and they are also most likely to report disaffection with the federal government.
In other words, young people are poor, unemployed and angry, and it’s probably safer to have them on your side.
But more importantly, by engaging with young voters, federal candidates can do their part to end a vicious cycle that disenfranchises youth voters and denies candidates access to a diverse voter base.
It works like this: young people don’t think politicians or the political system works for them. A staggering 70% of Canadian youth-aged voters told the Millennial Dialogue Report they feel that politicians ignore the views of young people. So they don’t show up at the polls. But because youth are unlikely to turn up at the polls, politicians don’t put youth issues on the agenda. And on it goes.
As a result, Canada has a problem. There’s a huge electoral imbalance. Seventy percent of voters older than 55 vote compared to only 39 per cent of youth, according to Elections Canada. Each generation of young people is voting less than the last.
Plenty of people will tell you it’s because young people are disengaged and apathetic – that they’re more concerned with selfies and Snapchat than civic engagement.
But if Canadian youth aren’t voting, our electoral system and politicians are also to blame.
If you’re a Yukon youth, it can seem as though the electoral system is designed to make voting difficult.
Don’t have a car to get to the polling station? Have a big midterm on election day? Can’t take time out of your entry-level job to vote? Having trouble finding valid ID because you don’t have a driver’s license or a status card? Did you recently move from down south and have yet to receive your updated ID?
These are all common barriers faced by Yukon youth – and they’ll have to figure out how to overcome them if they want to vote on October 19.
In an age where we can shop online, bank online, and date online, we still can’t vote online. Elections Canada’s website looks like something from 2002. It didn’t have a Facebook page until July 6, 2015 (yes, you read that right). Its English page has only 973 followers; the French page, only 319.
No wonder young Canadians feel left out of the electoral process.
What’s more, Yukon youth in rural communities face unique barriers. Many rural youth who come to Whitehorse for high school leave their families for the school year.
According to Elections Canada, family influence is one of the greatest factors that can encourage or prohibit youth from voting. Rural Yukon youth are more likely to be isolated from their families at an age when it’s critical for them to become educated in civic issues if they are to vote in the future. The Yukon’s high school curriculum isn’t doing enough to fill this gap.
Yet these staggering barriers aren’t campaign issues. It’s not surprising when you consider that politicians have yet to ask youth about issues that matter to them.
When politicians campaign, they’re more likely to knock on the door of a veteran voter than to go after new voters. Pollsters and parties call landlines to chat with prospective voters. Do you know any young people with a landline?
During the last federal election in 2011, BYTE’s Yukon Youth Want campaign identified environmental protection, accessible education, affordable housing, better healthcare, and funding for the arts as issues that mattered to Yukon youth.
At BYTE’s annual Leaders In Training Conference, we asked rural high school-aged youth what matters to them. They told us they wanted more recreation facilities, improved youth centres and better access to education in the Yukon’s rural and First Nations communities.
Just because youth aren’t voting doesn’t mean they’re disengaged.
All youth can identify issues they care about. But we can’t expect young people to show up at the polls if these issues aren’t represented in federal campaigns.
The good news is this: We have a small population and this year’s federal candidates can easily make themselves visible to the territory’s young people – especially if they visit the communities and make use of online platforms.
But if politicians refuse to step up and include youth issues in their campaigns, we’re going to continue to have a disenfranchised young population and a federal government that doesn’t truly represent the country.
According to a recent CBC article, the North’s vote could matter more than usual due to an extremely tight three-way race indicated by polls down south. In the Yukon, where the population of people aged 20-29 represents the second biggest demographic in the territory, the youth vote matters more than ever.
So, federal candidates, here’s the challenge: include youth issues in your campaigns. Talk to young people. And don’t underestimate their ability to vote.
Don’t know where to start? Contact BYTE – we’re happy to help.
Kara Johancsik works for BYTE – Empowering Youth, a Yukon-based non-profit that focuses on youth workshops and programming across the territory.