“It’s not that they aren’t interested in politics but rather that they feel that political parties aren’t interested in them,” points out Sébastien Dallaire, General Manager at Ipsos Québec. In fact, a new Ipsos survey published in March 2022 revealed that only 14% of adults aged 18 to 30 feel that political parties pay special attention to issues that really matter to them such as mental health, the environment and social inequalities. Which means that many believe these topics should be given greater consideration in the electoral platforms of most political parties.
Obviously, this impacts the youth vote. In the 2018 provincial election, just over half (53.4%) of adults aged 35 or younger exercised their right to vote compared to 69.6% for voters aged 35 and older according to Élections Québec statistics. More young people voted in the 2012 election, with 62.7% of voters aged 18 to 24 heading to the polls—a phenomenon linked to the student movement against tuition hikes.
Abstention does not equal disengagement
“It is true that fewer young adults vote today than earlier generations. That being said, that doesn’t mean that they are less committed politically. They simply get involved differently by attending demonstrations for instance, or volunteering for organizations that support a cause they believe in or signing petitions. They are by no means apathetic,” states Valérie-Anne Mahéo, Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Université Laval and member of the Center for the Study of Democratic Citizenship (Centre pour l’étude de la citoyenneté démocratique).
They are also less likely to subscribe to a party’s ideas and to vote for the same party from one election to the next, the way their older counterparts might do. Valérie-Anne Mahéo adds that “their involvement is somewhat ‘à la carte,’ more flexible and less ideological in terms of the parties' election platforms.”
A question of trust
And it is partly because they are in fact younger that they don’t vote as much. “There is a period of great transition between the ages of 18 and 34: we leave the family home, complete our studies and enter the job market, explains Valérie-Anne Mahéo. And this steep learning curve takes centre stage.”
“Studies have shown that, among other factors associated with low youth voter turnout on election day, young people feel a sense of helplessness and doubt about their ability to really understand the issues at stake. Another reason for their lack of interest is that they do not know or are unfamiliar with how our democratic institutions operate,” emphasizes Malorie Flon, Director General at the Institut du Nouveau Monde (INM).
The Ipsos survey also revealed that one in four young adults does not vote because they do not trust the political system. “They criticize politicians for not keeping their promises, explains Sébastien Dallaire. And one in five respondents believes that their vote doesn’t matter.”
Fighting voter apathy
INM teams visit schools regularly to lead citizen involvement workshops. “Young people are hungry for meaning, notes Malorie Flon. They care about public affairs and community spirit. We just need to find how to channel this interest to encourage their involvement in the election process.”
And whose responsibility is that? “It’s a shared responsibility. Families, schools, unions and even businesses have a role to play in encouraging them to vote, without trying to sway anyone’s opinion of course,” says Malorie Flon.
Élections Québec has decided to tackle this challenge through various citizenship education programs across primary schools and high schools as well as francization schools and organizations.
Of course, political parties also have an important role to play in generating more interest from younger people. “Sadly, parties are more interested in wooing older voters than younger voters, which doesn’t encourage them to become politically involved,” states Valérie-Anne Mahéo. And yet, data from the Institut de la statistique du Québec shows that 18-to-35-year-olds have considerable political weight: they made up more than a quarter (27.7%) of all Québec voters in 2018, on par with the baby boomer generation.
“So their voice does matters, provided they choose to vote, she adds. And to achieve that goal, political parties need to reach them where they are, namely on social media.” Some politicians are more skilled in that endeavour than others. Jagmeet Singh, leader of the New Democratic Party, has used videos posted on Instagram and TikTok to connect with younger voters.
Let’s just hope that others follow suit.
What do young people think?
We asked a few thirtysomethings to share their thoughts on political involvement.
Sarah Smith, 34
Sarah, a math teacher for first-year students in a Montréal suburb high school, is interested in politics despite a busy work and family schedule.
“I vote on election day but I don’t necessarily listen to the entire leaders' debate, she says, laughing. But I do read up on each party’s electoral platform. I think it’s important to make an informed decision. I want to know who I’m voting for, not just put a check mark on a ballot.”
She is critical of the way some politicians do things, politically speaking. She dislikes candidates who tend to criticize their opponents in order to raise their own profile. She still remembers how Françoise David, former Québec solidaire co-spokesperson, detailed her party’s platform during the leaders’ debate without ever tearing her opponents to shreds. “I found that truly inspiring, she adds. I’d much rather support those who can present their ideas in a positive manner.”
She takes advantage of election campaigns to help her students practise their statistics literacy by analyzing election results. “It helps them see how significant one vote can truly be.”
Maxime Boutin, 32
Maxime grew up in a family where politics were frequently discussed. “My parents were civil servants: it’s easy to become interested in politics when you work for the government,” explains the secondary four Social Sciences teacher at Saint-Léonard-d’Aston’s École secondaire La Découverte, in the Centre-du-Québec region.
He exercises his right to vote at all three levels of government “because it’s important.” But he does find that elected officials too often make decisions which are designed to get them re-elected rather than to really improve things.
“Things will change within the next decade once today’s younger people become the more significant demographic group. Political parties are going to have to take their opinions on universal issues like the environment into account.”
Mélanie Déziel-Proulx, 35
This “committed feminist” is an active citizen, in many ways. She votes, but is also involved with organizations that advocate for causes she holds dear like the environment, women and members of the LGTBQ+ community.
“It helps me to better understand and appreciate different realities,” explains the Syndicat du soutien scolaire de l’Outaouais Vice President. It also gives her an opportunity to do her part and help change things.
She hopes to see a renewal, a shift in our political landscape. “Young people have lost faith in political parties who don’t always do what they say they will,” she argues. She hopes that parties will listen a little more carefully, be more active on social media—the main source of information for young people—and commit to a political vision that goes beyond the next election.