Harnessing the Youth Vote

It’s no surprise: millennials are quickly emerging as a key demographic in Canada, especially when it comes to politics – by the time we reach the 2019 federal election, the largest number of eligible voters will be millennials. Like it or not, this generation of young Canadians are shaping up to be a political powerhouse and Ontario’s political parties need to focus on empowering this demographic to vote now and into the future to be successful.

The Youth Vote Matters

While many political strategists have previously down-played the get-out-the-vote return on investment in targeting youth voters, the 2015 federal election proved otherwise – youth voter turnout was up significantly (the biggest increase since 2004) and ultimately played a large role in electing Justin Trudeau as Prime Minister.

That being said, the youth participation rate was still well below the national average participation rate overall. This issue is something that continues to ring true election after election, especially in Ontario: only 34 per cent of Canadians aged 18-24 voted in the 2014 provincial election.

Why?

There are several possible reasons. Young voters could be disinterested in or lack a connection to the issues being discussed, and in turn garnering little motivation to act. Maybe they feel they lack sufficient information to make an informed decision altogether. Or perhaps young voters are disenchanted by their choices, both in terms of the party platform and the candidate.

In general, diversity in a party’s roster of candidates is important to voters in this election. In recent research H+K conducted on issues related to this election, fully half of Ontarians said it is “very important” that a party’s candidates reflect the diversity of Ontario (51%).  That number sky rockets for young millennial voters (those under 25 years old).  For young millennials, this issue is “very important” for fully 70%.

One thing is clear: to get their votes, political candidates must speak directly to this growing cohort on what really matters to them.

Mobilizing a Generation

Elections give us the opportunity to choose a government that we believe will build a better future for our communities, provinces and the country at large. There’s a lot to be won or lost for young Ontarians in this provincial election – they’re the generation that will ultimately live with the decisions made by the winning party.

That’s why many of the platforms being brought to the forefront by all the provincial parties address real, relevant issues that directly affect the Ontario’s young voters, like affordable post-secondary education, increased minimum wages, social issues, and better access to healthcare and child care.

Speaking to the issues that matter is a crucial step – but it’s just one piece of the puzzle. Candidates face the bigger challenge of mobilizing this cohort long-term, and encouraging them to vote election after election. And while today’s millennials appear to be more mindful of democracy than in the past and are more eager than ever to learn more, in this day and age, inspiring people beyond a single issue is no easy feat.

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