Culture & Conversation

To Vote or Not to Vote: A Young Person’s Question

I set out recently to talk to young people my age in order to answer a question that rolls around every four years or so:  Are the youth interested in the upcoming election this time? Will we see a hike in participation from the 18-35 demographic in the wake of the student protests? Or, are the young still consistently and increasingly apathetic — will the pattern of decline continue? What does this mean for the future of our province when a notable percentage of the population leave their voices unheard?

Well, get ready for a somewhat surprising find: Every one of the people I had a chance to speak to said that they were planning to cast their vote. However, historically and statistically, it’s unlikely that all of them will remain true to their word. But why?

The truth of the matter is that one cannot simply categorize an entire group of people so easily. Like their older counterparts, the youth vary in beliefs and priorities. Not all the people I spoke to were particularly concerned with the student protest, and while most were in favour of it, there were a range responses to what they considered were the most pressing issues.

Eba, a 23-year-old med student at McGill that I met during her wait for a bus by Concordia’s EV building, says that she does support the student movement, and believes that it is an issue worthy of a lot of attention, but that another area of focus for her right now is bettering healthcare, as it is the sector that she will soon be working in.

That being said, there’s no way to be sure whether the youth participation rate will improve this time around until the ballots are actually counted. However, from my short conversations with friends and strangers, there was one constant response to every question I posed: it was in people’s uncertainty. From that I can conclude that there seems to be two reoccurring reasons behind voter apathy:

1 ) A voter feels as if none of the options really appeal to him or her.

Corey Deschambault, a twenty-two year old student in Professional Photography at Dawson College, serves as a good example of this: “Yes, I will vote,” he told me, “but I’m not overly interested, just enough to know who I don’t want to win.”

It has been floating around the news for some time now that Anglophones who are against a referendum but reluctant to vote Liberal (especially given the student movement) are left with few options. Olivier Aveline, about to start his first year at Concordia next week, recognizes this, but stresses the importance of voting: “as English speaking Québecers who like being a part of Canada,” he explains, “we need to vote.”

Indeed, even a voter’s ballot reading “none of the above” sends a much stronger message than no ballot at all. This message is underlined by a website recently established to encourage the Anglo youth vote, However, it seems not everyone would think of this and instead might opt to avoid voting altogether, which leads to the next problem, voter apathy.

2) People are “not interested.”

While everyone I spoke to confirmed that they would vote, when asked the follow-up of whether they were interested in the elections at all, a striking number confessed that they weren’t. What’s important with this, however, is the fact that most backed this claim up with some version of “I really don’t know enough about it” or “I’m not the right person to be asking this.”

This leads me to assume that the problem is not disinterest, but a lack of civic education. Without an understanding of how their vote affects their lives in a direct sense, young voters, like myself, can be left without much of a desire to seek out information on their own. I can back this one up from personal experience — while I do take the time to look up party platforms, often I find the websites to be vague and confusing, which leaves me feeling as if it is not my place to make decisions or speak out on a subject I do not completely understand.

A survey originally conducted by Institut du Nouveau Monde and posted on Voteitup suggests debates be set-up in CEGEPS and universities, and that classes be conducted on the subject. This would inform students in a more concrete way.

But, as the vote quickly approaches, there is little time left, especially considering the fact that many classes resume only after election day. For this reason, another of their suggestions stands out even more: talking. According to Voteitup’s official press release from August 23rd, talking to another – co-workers, friends, or roommates – can greatly heighten a youth’s likelihood of voting.

So, why not go out there and discuss! Whoever said it was a faux-pas to talk politics?


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