Shocking data released by Elections Ontario regarding the record-low voter turnout on June 2 made headlines, but if you’re wondering which age group ranked the lowest on the list, you’re out of luck —Elections Ontario told the Toronto Observer it does not provide demographic information about voters.
What is voter turnout?
“Voter turnout” is a term often mentioned in election reports and recaps, but what does it mean?
Lydia Miljan, professor of political science at University of Windsor, said there are two definitions of voter turnout.
“One is the voting-age population, which you just take a measurement of anybody who’s potentially of the age group to vote,” she said. “The other one is based on registered voters, so the number of people who are actually eligible to vote is calculated in that figure.”
This final percentage takes into account the number of people who voted on election day and those who took part in advanced polling.
So why is voter turnout relevant and necessary to track?
“Voter turnout is something that we use to measure the health of democracy. The theory is that the more people are engaged, the healthier the democracy,” Miljan said. “Another way to look at it is what kind of people are more likely to vote, and we certainly have a lot of data that suggests different social demographic groups are more likely to vote than others, and that talks about representation and representativeness.”
She said that the low voter turnout could also mean citizens are content with the leadership and don’t want anything to change.
The problem with youth voter turnout
Making up a large amount of the Ontario electorate, about 25 per cent this year, the youth vote is a powerful force. In federal elections, which does publish voter turnout by age group, eligible voters in the 18 to 34 age bracket have historically been less inclined to vote than those in their upper years.
Future Majority, a non-partisan and non-profit organization, set out to change this pattern.
Provincial media representative for Future Majority, Jad El-Ghali, said that the organization’s main goal is to encourage youth participation in the electoral process.
“Our whole mission is trying to get young people to understand the importance of voting, and to come out to vote and to actually engage in Canadian politics,” he said. “Because, honestly, young people are going to be the most affected by policies implemented today, in 10, 20, 30 years from now.”
To engage young voters in the provincial election, one of Future Majority’s initiatives was the launch of their platform, VoteTube.
The website is home to videos of the provincial party leaders, where they not only discuss their political agendas, but also are quizzed on Gen Z slang and answered questions from young voters.
“Steven Del Duca was making meatballs. Mike Schreiner was playing basketball,” El-Ghali said. “And while they were doing that they were answering questions that we gauged from our own focus groups to see ‘what are youth worried about?’ And they actually answered questions about what their party was doing to combat or help in that capacity.”
Reflecting on election day
With the 2022 provincial election reporting the lowest voter turnout in history, it begs the question “what happened?”
“It was a boring campaign,” Miljan said. “Nothing happened. There was nothing to sink your teeth into. Because nobody made any really big mistakes, there was nothing for people to really chatter about.”
She also pointed out that the timing of the election may have had an impact.
“The month of May, a lot of people are just sort of finishing up school or finishing up the semester, but even other people, they’re just looking forward to summer,” she said.
“More people stayed home than voted, and I think might have been across the board. Obviously, the party leaders weren’t talking necessarily about issues that really matter to people who are (in the) younger demographic,” she said. “The Green Party made some efforts … and as for the other political parties, they were really focusing on the middle vote — people who are in the job force, people who are middle income, and that’s where a lot of their attention was centred.”
El-Ghali, who worked as a supervisor deputy returning officer at a polling station in the Mississauga-Lakeshore riding on election night, said that out of the 4400 ballots they prepared, only about 1000 of them were used.
He believes the majority of those 1000 voters were youth, including the staff, which was more than he expected.
“A solid 80 per cent of the staff with me were high school or college students,” he said. “So not only are they coming out to vote, but they’re actively engaging in the civic process. They are deputy returning officers and they are information officers. They are there at the polling stations.”
Thoughts from young voters
Nadia Jafor Uddin, a human biology and neuroscience student at the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus, believes it’s because politicians aren’t talking about issues that are on the minds of Ontario youth.
“A lot of the topics may seem like they don’t apply to us, but they could apply to us in the future,” she said. “For example, housing prices, right? Costs are going up, but because (of this) more youth are probably less interested in buying one because you have to afford it first.”
El-Ghali agrees. “The first step that they (politicians) have to do is kind of look at the issues that we care about the most. We care about affordability, we care about climate change, and we care about mental health,” he said.
Another big issue young voters want politicians to address is hate crimes.
“Gen Z is an extremely diverse generation here (in) Ontario. When we saw the London attacks happen, we saw all the party leaders provincially and federally flock to London and give speeches at the memorial,” said El-Ghali. “But I don’t think I saw any limelight during the election where they were actually talking about how we can decrease Islamophobia, anti-Asian hate, anti-Black hate, anti-Semitism. We didn’t see any of them being addressed.”
For Jafor Uddin, the lack of youth engagement in politics lies in education she said.
“When we’re younger, we get one unit on government and you’re in Grade 5,” she said. “I think they should continuously reinforce that interest in politics in high school as well.”
At present, Ontario’s curriculum includes only two classes where Canadian government is taught. Once class in Grade 5, and the other in Grade 10.
By the time individuals turn 18 and can vote, three years have passed and that crucial information may be forgotten.
“I think education is extremely, extremely important, especially when it comes to understanding our political system,” El-Ghali said. “And unfortunately, in Canada, we have a real problem with civic literacy. People won’t know the difference between the provincial and federal government; they don’t know what different responsibilities each has. And that in itself is a problem, especially when you’re going out to vote, because if you have a certain problem in mind that you want addressed, you need to know which election is going to directly affect you.”
The Scarborough perspective
Provincial election issues and government policies at every level of government affect people differently depending on where they reside in Ontario. Jafor Uddin described how living in Scarborough influences her interest in politics and her desire to vote. Local issues are just as important to her as provincial issues which is why she plans on voting in the municipal election on October 24, too.
“Living in Scarborough, especially because there’s a lot of low income households, does spark an interest in terms of seeing an actual change,” she said. ”We see that there are a lot of concerns out in the roads as we walk by.”
“That phrase, ‘every vote counts’ has a lot of value,” Jafor Uddin said. “Maybe it should be reworded so that we understand that it’s important. You’re gonna be living in this society, (these decisions) will affect you. I think that message needs to be delivered.”
Jafor Uddin emphasized that although it may not be in the downtown core, Scarborough is still very much part of Toronto.
“We get affected by decisions all the time,” she said. “Our voices still need to be heard.”