In this election, young people are not looking for a saviour, they are not looking for a friend, they are looking for a plan that will let us be hopeful for the future. As leaders across federal party lines are vying to be that hope for Canadians, they must factor in the concerns of the youngest voting demographic.
All things considered, it has been historically challenging to get people between the ages of 18 to 24 to vote. In 2019, only 53.9% of Canadians aged 18 to 24 voted in the election versus 67% of the general population’s eligible voting rates. A proof point that Canada’s young people have consistently felt apathetic toward a political process where the outcomes always feel the same. But this time, things could be different.
Here are five recommendations for how political parties can engage and mobilize prospective young voters to secure their vote on election day:
1. Authenticity matters
Politicians must break through the noise and speak about the issues they genuinely care about. Regardless of political stripe, young people are looking for politicians who are unafraid of being themselves rather than watering down their identity for mass appeal.
Youth are looking for leaders that can be genuinely vulnerable and compassionate toward the issues Canadians face, be it mental health, diversity and inclusion, or economic inequality. There is a lot of value in standing firmly in one’s own beliefs as a person and politician.
Furthermore, young people are looking for something beyond the rhetoric of “changing the status quo,” they are seeking leaders who live by the values they espouse and take decisive action to make Canadians proud at home and abroad.
2. Talk about creating a future that young voters want to grow up in
This election is occurring in the context of many pervasive problems for Canadians, with the pandemic and climate change, the housing market locking people out of the neighbourhoods they grew up in and debt continuing to grow. Many new graduates remain unemployed, shouldering crushing student loans while navigating a complex job market. These are many issues that will set the stage for the world we will inherit as the next generation. Politicians need to discuss actionable, digestible plans to address these issues and ways we can proactively solve these crises before it is too late.
3. Support a diverse and inclusive society from coast to coast
Events like the discovery of hundreds of bodies on residential school sites across Canada or the death of George Floyd have exposed fissures in Canada’s cultural landscape. There is more work to do in reconciliation with Canada’s Indigenous population and First Nations, supporting the status of women, people of colour, people with disabilities, and 2SLGBTQ+ people. These plans should be co-created with accountability metrics. They should also be regularly updated. It takes many difficult conversations about Canadian history and society to make systemic improvements. Now is the time to be the voice to people in marginalized populations whose stories need to be heard.
4. Reach the right people
The youth are increasingly opting to get news and information from social media platforms rather than traditional media outlets. Social media presents a unique opportunity for political parties to create grassroots movements. However, social media has also allowed for the democratization of complex information, allowing young people to be armed with information to demand more from political leaders.
As my colleagues explored in “TikTok in Canada: Effective Political Strategy or Long-Term Play?” young voters do not want to see politicians trying to act “cool” on social media. They want to have authentic conversations about issues that matter to them. Political parties must be in control of their narrative on social media by delivering targeted, personalized content that mobilizes the right people on election day.
5. Make their voices feel heard
Young voters have a desire to feel like their voices are important and valued in our current political landscape. While some parties may have a natural affinity with younger voters, it does not mean that leaders from other political stripes should discount youth engagement in politics. While reaching young people may take more unconventional methods at times, it does not mean that they are not paying attention. Now more than ever, young Canadians are looking for leaders who will be courageous and compassionate champions for the issues they face.
While there has always been a natural tension between both sides. As political parties claim that the youth don’t vote, and young people argue that things won’t change regardless of their vote. This election presents a unique opportunity for a leader to bridge this gap and realize significant electoral gains from new or first-time voters.