Youth Voting Trends

A person walking into a polling station

The health of any democracy depends on informed and engaged citizens. This section discusses the trends and the research done to understand why young Canadians tend to vote less than older Canadians, and how civic education can help get more young Canadians to the polls.

Trends in Overall Voter Turnout

For several decades, there was a downward trend in overall voter turnout. Before the 1990s, voter turnout was at 70% or higher in most federal elections. The voting rate declined in the years after that, and reached a record low of 59% in 2008.

Figure 1: Voter turnout, 1972 to 2019

A line graph showing voter turnout from 1970 to 2019

Figure 1: Voter turnout, 1972 to 2019 - Text version

Those trends started to reverse in 2011, and the results for 2015 were even more positive. Overall, voter turnout reached 68.3% in 2015 and only slightly decreased to 67% in 2019.

In 2015, voter turnout for youth (aged 18 to 24) increased the most of any age group: compared with 2011, over half a million more young Canadians voted.

But, in 2019, youth voter turnout decreased by 3.2 percentage points. Could it signal a downward shift in the trend? Or could it be a sign that participation is stabilizing?

Voting Trends by Age

One thing has remained true in the last decade: there is a significant turnout gap between younger and older demographics. In 2015, the turnout for young voters was more than 20 percentage points lower than that for people in the 65 to 74 age group.

In 2019, the gap between these age groups increased, with youth at 25 percentage points lower than the 65 to 74 age group.

Figure 2: Gap in voter turnout between younger and older demographics, 2019

A infographic comparing turnout in two age groups. Turnout in the 18 to 24 age group is 54%. Turnout in the 65 to 74 age group is 79%.

Voting is habit-forming. If a person votes in their first election, they will probably be a life-long voter. On the other hand, if someone does not vote in their first election, they will probably not pick up the habit later in life.

This graph represents the results of a study conducted with three cohorts of eligible voters between 1965 and 2011.

Figure 3: First-time voter turnout, 1965 to 2011

A line graph showing three study groups that demonstrate how voting as of an early age is habit-forming and makes for higher long-term participation rates

Figure 3: First-time voter turnout, 1965 to 2011 - Text version

Why are fewer young people voting?

Elections Canada has commissioned several research studies to better understand why many young people are not showing up to the polls. This research is part of Elections Canada’s ongoing efforts to understand how barriers to voting are evolving.

From the 2015 National Youth Survey, the agency found two major barriers that prevented youth from voting: motivation and access. The survey found that compared to older voters, Canadian youth

  • are less interested in Canadian politics
  • feel less strongly that voting will make a difference
  • believe that the government does not care what they think
  • tend to see voting as a choice rather than a duty

In terms of access, the survey discovered that youth

  • were less likely to receive a voter information card
  • were less aware of the ways to register and vote
  • perceived the voting process as too difficult (getting to the polls, proving their identity)

The research suggests that a key factor in overcoming these barriers is increasing the interest level and political knowledge of future voters.

The Value of Civic Education

Given all this research, Elections Canada knows that when it comes to preparing future voters to take part in civic life, education matters. In the 2015 National Youth Survey, young people who voted were much more likely to say that

  • they learned about government and politics in high school
  • they took part in a mock election

Creating future voters who are engaged and prepared to vote will require families, schools, government and others to work towards this goal. Our democracy depends on it!

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