Elections by the Numbers

Interpreting Data on Voter Turnout

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Teacher's guide

This activity is also available in a blended learning version , using Google applications. 

Overall description


This activity is designed for a mathematics or data management classroom. It can also be used in a language arts or social studies classroom to increase numeracy and media literacy.

Students begin by thinking about trends in their school or community and then make predictions about possible voting trends. In small groups, they review two data sets: a graph showing voter turnout in Canada since Confederation and a table showing data on voter turnout by age from the last four federal elections. Using the table data, they calculate the percentage point change and percent change for each age group. They then create a concept to show the table data effectively.

To consolidate their learning, they explain the rationale for their decision and reflect on the meaning behind the trends.


60 minutes

This lesson has been designed to be completed in one class period. If you use the optional extension activities, you will probably need more time.

Big idea

Voter turnout changes over time. It is important to understand voter turnout numbers because participation in elections affects our democracy.

Inquiry question

How does youth voting compare to that of other age groups?

Competencies and skills

  • Students will work collaboratively.
  • Students will apply analytical, problem-solving and reasoning skills to understand and interpret election data by:
    • analyzing voter turnout data over time,
    • comparing voter turnout data by age groups, and
    • predicting future voting patterns.
  • Students will create a model to accurately analyze, translate and represent data.
  • Students will use their creativity and communication skills to illustrate their thinking by collaboratively designing an infographic, conceptual map, graph, chart or image. (Students may use technology or draw by hand.)

Getting ready


The following materials are provided in different formats to help meet your needs. You can also find all essential materials for this lesson at the bottom of the page.

Printable materials
  • Graph: Voter turnout at federal elections, 1867–2021 [HTML]  [PDF]
  • Table: Voter turnout by age group, 2011–2021 [HTML]  [PDF]
  • Activity sheet: Change in voter turnout  [HTML]  [PDF]
  • Exit card [HTML]  [PDF]
  • Optional assessment rubric [HTML]  [PDF]
Digital material
  • Slide deck for teachers [HTML]  [PPT]
Materials not included
  • Chart paper/whiteboards, markers and rulers for group work
  • Calculator

Minds on

5 minutes

Introduce the idea of change over time with a class discussion on trends. Here are some questions to stimulate discussion:

  • What are some trends in our school or community? (e.g., fashion, games, music)
  • Do you think there are different trends for different age groups? (e.g., you, your parents, your grandparents) Why?
  • How do you know if something is on its way out or on its way in?
  • How could you track these trends in a more precise or mathematical way? (e.g., through a survey, poll, observation)

Write students’ ideas on the board.

Now introduce the topic of trends in voting. Ask questions such as these:

  • What do you think could be some trends in voting behaviours?
  • Do you think there are different voting trends for different age groups? Why?
  • How might you compare voting trends for different age groups?


1. Analyzing a graph

10 minutes

Show students the graph “Voter Turnout at Federal Elections, 1867–2021.” Display the graph or distribute copies. Have students discuss these questions in pairs or small groups:

  • What information is included in the graph? What information is not included?
  • What can we observe in the graph?
  • What can we conclude from this graph?

2. Interpreting data

30 minutes

Explain that students will analyze data from the last four federal elections and create a concept to show their response to the inquiry question: How does youth voting compare to that of other age groups?

Distribute and/or display the data table, “Voter turnout by age group, 2011–2021.”

In small groups, students examine and analyze the data to determine what it shows. To help students better understand the meaning behind the data, have them fill out the activity sheet, “Change in voter turnout.”   In this handout, students calculate both the percentage point change and the percent change for each age group.

The percentage point change is the difference between the recent election value and the older value.

To determine the percent change, you must first subtract the old value from the recent value. Then, divide that number by the old value. And finally, multiply your answer by 100.

Once students complete the activity sheet, ask:

  • How does this change your thinking about the data?
  • How might you choose to represent it?

Students then work together to brainstorm an effective way to represent this data that responds to the inquiry question: How does youth voting compare to that of other age groups?

Give students access to chart paper and/or whiteboards and markers.

They can create any kind of graph, chart, image, infographic, etc. to show the information in an effective way. This should be more of a conceptual activity, rather than an attempt to create a polished finished product.


15 minutes

Have students share their ideas for how to show the data effectively. This could be done in a jigsaw, a gallery walk or a group presentation to the class. If time is short, you could choose a couple of samples to discuss and share. Here are some possible prompts:

  • How did these students address the question, “How does youth voting compare to that of other age groups?”
  • What information did they choose to include or exclude?
  • Why do you think different age groups vote at different rates?
  • What are some factors that could affect voter turnout for different age groups?

Give each student an exit card. Invite them to reflect on the following prompts and then write their responses on the card:

  • What is interesting or important to you about the data on youth voting? Explain your thinking.
  • Make a prediction about an election 10 years from now. Do you think voting among 18-to-24-year-olds will increase, decrease or stay the same? Explain your thinking.


Optional extension activities

  • Have students work in pairs or individually to create a polished infographic using an application such as Piktochart or Google Drawings to represent their concept. Or students could create a polished infographic by hand.
  • For a more in-depth analysis of voter turnout by age group, invite math or data management students to examine these enhanced data sets:
    • 2011 Voter Turnout by Age Group [XLSX] [HTML]
    • 2015 Voter Turnout by Age Group [XLSX] [HTML]
    • 2019 Voter Turnout by Age Group [XLSX] [HTML]

For accessibility purposes, the content of the Excel data sets is presented in tables on Elections Canada’s main website. These tables include voter turnout by age and sex.

  • Find other election data (e.g., turnout by electoral district, provincial/territorial, municipal, or data from another elected organization) and have students show it more clearly or effectively.
  • Conduct a simulation to further show the influence of voter turnout. Vote on an activity for the class (e.g., pizza lunch, what movie to watch, what field trip to go on), but have only 40% of the class vote. Ask the 60% who did not vote how it felt to have the rest of the class decide for them. Remind them that you chose 40% because that is about the same percentage of eligible youth who voted in the 2011 election.

Teaching tips

  • In the “Minds on” activity, students can write their answers before sharing them. This encourages the more introverted students to participate and ensures that students’ opinions are not influenced by others before they share with the class.
  • Discussion protocols are a helpful way to engage all students and provide support for academic conversations.
  • If calculating percent change is too advanced for students, they can create their visual representation using only the table data.
  • A jigsaw can be used to share ideas and increase individual student accountability. It ensures that students understand their own topic and are positioned as listeners and speakers. This helps to build confidence, as all students have the opportunity to have their voice heard. In a jigsaw, mixed groups of students walk around each station to view the products.
  • A gallery walk is a more informal walk around the classroom. It can provide opportunities for students to talk to each other about the material in a less structured way. It is usually shorter than a full jigsaw, but not as accountable.
  • Exit cards require students to write in response to prompts or questions based on the lesson. The cards provide immediate feedback to you to help you assess students’ understanding of content, to gather feedback for your teaching, and to see what questions students are asking to suggest new areas of learning. For students, exit cards provide a reflective space to consolidate and reflect on their learning and practice and to enhance their metacognition.
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Descriptive transcript

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