Message Not Delivered: The Myth of Apathetic Youth and the Importance of Contact in Political Participation

September 8, 2015
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Message Not Delivered: The Myth of Apathetic Youth and the Importance of Contact in Political Participation
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Over the last 30 years, Canadians have watched with concern as voting rates among younger people have declined, with the result that in the 2011 federal election, the majority of young people opted not to cast a vote. If the number of non-voters increases, the legitimacy of Canada’s democratic process may someday be called into question. Besides, if groups of Canadians are not considered to be interested voters, will political parties and leaders prioritize their views during and outside of elections?

The low voting rate among younger Canadians is often viewed as evidence that young people today are more apathetic or lazy than any other generation before. That—more than other generations—they don’t care about politics and aren’t interested in the world.

“Message Not Delivered” debunks these myths. In this report, Samara Canada—a national charity dedicated to reconnecting citizens to politics—compares political participation and contact rates between citizens and Canadian political leaders across three age groups.

Key Findings

  • Across 18 forms of participation, younger Canadians’ participation rate is 11 percentage points higher, on average, than their older counterparts.
  • Almost half of people under 30 in Canada have not been contacted by federal political parties, candidates or MPs, compared to only one-quarter of Canadians 56 and older.
  • Contact from political leaders is important: contact is linked to voting and an awareness than political decisions matter. Political parties are well positioned to increase voter turnout.
  • Contact matters: among young Canadians who reported contact, 61% agreed that they are “affected by the decisions made by elected officials “every day. Of the young Canadians who reported no contact, 22% agreed.  

More on Mobilizing Youth

Youth mobilization infographic

In 2013, Elections Canada asked Samara to explore what we know about how political parties engage young people in Canada and in similar countries. Why? Election Canada's National Youth Survey Report showed that, among young people, the likelihood of voting was 15 percentage points higher for those who were directly contacted by a political party or candidate than for those who were not.

The result was a literature review on party engagement of youth in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Finland.

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