Why young people didn’t vote in Canada last year

If you thought young people don’t care about politics, you may want to take a look at the data.

If you’re in political circles long enough, especially if your favourite party loses, inevitably the discussion will come around to the youth vote. In particular, people complain that their party lost because young people didn’t come out to vote, that they don’t care about politics.

Well, last month, Statistics Canada published data on voter turnout during the 2021 federal election and why some people didn’t vote. There’s some information in there that I think will surprise some people.

First of all, voting among young people wasn’t lower than most of the previous recent elections.

Support independent journalism

For those 18–24 years old, turnout was 66%, and it was 73% for those 35–44. These were pretty close to what they were in the 2015 election and roughly 10 points higher than they were in 2011.

As well, 18–24-year-old voters were up 11 points in 2021 from 2011, the second largest increase of any age group.

Not only that, but none of the age groups saw increases over voter turnout in 2019. The 18–24 age group dropped two points, from 68% in 2019 to 66% in 20211. But there were 3 other age groups—35–44, 45–54, and 65–74—who also dropped two points in their turnout. So it’s not like the young people were becoming disenfranchised with politics: fewer people in general showed up to vote.

From their 56,000-household survey, Statistics Canada grouped all the non-voting responses into the following 5 categories:

  • Everyday life reasons (43%)
  • Political reasons (39%)
  • Electoral process reasons (7%)
  • COVID–19 related reasons (2%)
  • All other reasons (6.8%)

Everyday life reasons

Among voters who were 18–24 years old, 42% cited “everyday life reasons”, compared to 43% for all non-voters.

In particular, young voters were more likely to not vote because they were too busy (25% vs. 24%) or out of town (13% vs. 9%). They were less likely to not vote because of illness or disability (4% vs. 11%).

Political reasons

Interestingly, young people who didn’t vote were less likely than the general population to pick a political reason overall for not having voted. Although it was the second most likely category for not voting, only 36% of voters between 18 and 24 gave this reason, compared to 39% of the general population voters.

The most common political reason for both groups not voting was an apathy toward politics in general, but they were basically the same response (33% for 18–24 and 32% for general). So, young people weren’t really any more likely to not vote out of apathy than other groups.

Other reasons in this category include lack of information about campaigns; not knowing who to vote for; dislike for the candidates, parties, and campaigns; and didn’t think voting would make a difference

Electoral process reasons

This area had the largest spread between youth voters who chose these reasons and the general population who did. 12% of young people chose these reasons, as compared to only 7% of the general population.

People who picked this reason may have been unable to prove their identity, weren’t on voter lists, lacked knowledge of when and where to vote, had issues with their voter information card, felt that polling stations were too far away, or considered the lineups too long.

These reasons were the lowest for low voter turnout. Among the general population, only 2% of people who didn’t vote had indicated that COVID-19 influenced their choice to stay home. That means 98% of those who didn’t vote never saw COVID-19 as a barrier.

Statistics Canada reported 1% of 18–24-year-olds as indicating COVID-19 as a reason for not voting, but they issued a note with their data that this specific number should be used with caution, likely because of the low sample size.

All other reasons

All remaining reasons were pretty neck and neck for the two groups, with 9% of young voters choosing these reasons and 8% of the general population.

This category included respondents having forgotten to vote or didn’t vote because of religious reasons or because of the weather.

Top 5 reasons why young people don’t vote

Here are the top 5 reasons why young people didn’t vote, compared to how the general population fared in the same reasons.

Everyday life or health reasons42%43%
Political reasons36%39%
Electoral process-related reasons12%7%
All other reasons9%8%
Reasons related to COVID-192%2%

So, by far, the most common reason for young people not voting in the 2021 federal election was because of life or health reasons. In fact, it was used by 2 in 5 voters. But then the general population was slightly more likely to choose this reason for not voting.

That being said, the general population was pretty much in the same spot. Political apathy isn’t unique to just young people, at least not in the 2019 election.

For the second most popular reason for young people not voting in the 2021 federal election was because they just weren’t interested. In fact, it was used by 1 in 3 voters. And that probably fits in line with how people view young voters.

However, it was only 1 percentage point higher than the general population, so it’s not like young people are that much more apathetic about politics. That means it’s kind of a myth to perpetuate that they don’t vote because they don’t care.

Frankly, the youth population was on track with the general population in most areas. The ones where there was a significant difference between the two groups were almost all related to the electoral process itself.

What all this tells me is that maybe we’re a bit too hard on the youth. Maybe we’re putting more blame on them than they should be bearing.

Maybe it’s not the youth failing us. Maybe we’re failing the youth.

Support independent journalism

By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent queer journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news articles, focusing on politics and labour.

One reply on “Why young people didn’t vote in Canada last year”

Comment on this story

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: