A shrug, head shake and honest reply of “I just really don’t know,” was the best I could come up with when faced with a table-turning question from one of the candidates in the upcoming election.
“How do we get young people engaged in voting?” asked Green Party candidate Dan Bouchard.
It’s bugged me ever since.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized the parties don’t really seem to care to answer it on either a national or local stage.
Locally, why would they? According to the 2006 census report, 25.8 per cent of people living in Penticton are over 65. That is 11 per cent higher than the provincial average and clearly not a reason for politicians to pander to younger voters.
I followed up that revelation with a small informal poll of locals 32 and under. Of the 10 or so I asked, the majority said they wouldn’t be voting and offered up a variety of reasons. The excuses ran from they didn’t know enough about politics to make a responsible decision, to they don’t like the “big two” parties (Conservative and Liberal), but putting their vote behind one of the other parties wouldn’t make any difference.
Even the national numbers from the last election backed up my informal study of under-middle-age apathy during elections. In 2008 about 58.8 per cent of Canadians voted, this was the lowest turnout ever. Of that, only 37.4 per cent of those 18 to 24 voted. Yet, ask that same group what their main concerns are and they are worldly — speaking of oil sands, wars and food problems. These are the same people that turn up to sign petitions to try and block prisons from their community and reduce post-secondary costs, but put a voter card in their mailbox and they are likely to ignore it.
That is why it is refreshing to see the 26-year-old Bouchard running. He is someone the non-voting younger crowd can relate to, and maybe he can encourage them to just get out and vote, whether for or against him. Maybe that is what the non-voters need to see more of, rather than four grey haired men bickering on national television.
The good news is the chief electoral officer of Canada announced the preliminary estimate of the number of electors who voted in advance was 2,056,001, that is a 34.5 per cent increase from those who voted in advance in 2008. Still, the Vancouver Canucks Game 7 win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday night garnered more attention, 3.82 million tuned in to watch that.
In the U.S. the youth vote was credited to Barack Obama’s win, well that and perhaps Oprah Winfrey. Maybe it was that the social-media savvy president presented a vision and had an air about him that didn’t stink of depends, old spice and mints.
Slowly I can see an uprising as the hours tick closer to May 2. Canadian comedian Rick Mercer dared young people to go out and vote. This inspired students at the University of Guelph to create a vote mob. It’s a take on a flash mob, which is when a group of people assemble in a location, usually broadcast over social media outlets, to perform a certain dance or song. Maybe the vote mob has just the viral juice to push young voters to do the deed.
Websites such as www.rubbishHarperdid.com reach to the younger crowd to try and draw an interest into voting. Penticton spoken-word poet Shane Koyczan, who many might remember from his passionate words at the opening of the Olympics, has created a YouTube video commenting on politics called Wasted Vote. Another website, www.apathyisboring.com, is a national non-partisan project to encourage a broad demographic of youth to get more involved in their communities and the democratic process. It provides a load of information for the younger set. They have started a Facebook group called I Will Vote that has over 74,000 people joined and hooked onto what seemed to inspire U.S. youth voters — getting musicians involved. Blingy rappers and pop stars raised awareness in the last U.S. elections and apathyisboring.com has subscribed Canadian artists such as K’Naan, Raine Maida, Henry Rollins, Alexisonfire and Tegan and Sara.
So how do we get the younger generation to vote? The Internet obviously is key, maybe next time there will be an app for that.
Kristi Patton is a reporter with the Penticton Western News.