In this election, all three major parties are targeting millennials, Canadians born between 1981 and 1996, as each party believes this voter demographic is crucial to their party’s electoral success. Millennials, as defined here, are now the largest voting cohort, at 37 per cent of the population. The young electorate in this election is more diverse than ever before with 22 per cent of Canadians identifying as a visible minority, with a mean age of 33, according to the 2016 census. While the issues that these individuals deem important may vary, they are largely related to their concerns for their futures. Millennials tend to be concerned with climate change, tuition fees, cost of living including housing costs, parental leave and childcare.
According to Elections Canada, who has been tracking demographic data turnout, voter turnout in 2015 increased significantly among Canadians 18 to 24, from 39 per cent in 2011 to 57 per cent, and among Canadians 25 to 34 from 45 per cent in 2011 to 57 per cent. Voter turnout in 2015 for both groups remained below the historic national average of 61 per cent but improved significantly and reversed a trend of declining turnout for these groups.
Abacus Data, released after the 2015 election, showed that the Liberals were able to capitalize on the young Canadians who came out to vote in 2015, with 45 per cent of voters aged 18 to 25 voting for them, compared to 25 per cent who voted for the NDP and 20 per cent who voted for the Conservatives. Many of these voters were first-time voters, who were looking for change, felt they could relate to Justin Trudeau and his forward-looking messages of tolerance and inclusivity. In the end, it was youth voters (many of whom voted for the first time) that helped the Liberals win a majority government in a landslide victory.
This election, however, will have Justin Trudeau, the incumbent, as the oldest of the three major national party leaders. In addition, Trudeau has made a number of political gaffes related to ethics and racism, the latest being the blackface and brownface photos and video, which make him look hypocritical. These recent gaffs and his reactions in the media are of concern to many millennials who are questioning Trudeau’s authenticity. In this election, the NDP can be seen to have the unique leader, a leader who some Quebecers or Atlantic Canadians may not be able to relate to because he wears a turban but who may attract the more diverse millennial vote. The NDP may be able to capitalize on those millennials that have become disenchanted with the Liberals. At the same time, millennials are a notoriously difficult voter population to actually get out and vote on Election Day, so the question for the NDP is how many millennials can the party get out to vote orange, and how many will just stay home?
A study done by Samara Centre for Democracy, after the 2015 federal election found “a generational shift in attitude, from voting as a private act of duty to voting as a social, shared experience.” It also found that young people should no longer be considered politically apathetic since they are concerned about issues and want to discuss them. Based on the trends seen in the last election the millennial voters are gaining attention from the three major political parties in this election.
In Jagmeet Singh’s interview with the Toronto Star, he chose to speak about the “raw deal” facing youth in Canada. He believes, he is the only leader bold enough to bring in a new deal, instead of just making small changes to existing programs. Young Canadians today are faced with economic uncertainty. The ability to afford university or professional school could be a barrier for youth so the NDP have committed to eliminate interest on student loans at the federal level and increase access to Canada Student Grants. The NDP vision for healthcare would cover areas that used to be covered by employee benefits so that coverage does not depend on the job and applies to all, including young people working in precarious employment. The vision for investment in building new homes will make homes more accessible and affordable for this generation. The NDP are also proposing a national childcare program and strengthening the Liberal carbon pricing system, an important promise for a voter group that puts climate change among their top policy priorities.
The Liberal campaign promises are trying to sweeten the deal for millennial voters, to get them to vote Liberal again. Many millennials feel they have been priced out of the real estate market. In campaign promises, the Liberals said they will expand the first-time home buyer’s initiative. This program which just launched is a move that will help young, middle-class voters in major urban areas but is thought to have little impact on the overall real estate market. The expansion in the three most expensive markets (Victoria, Vancouver and the GTA) is necessary because without the change individuals in those markets would not have been able to use the program. In addition, they have offered tax-free parental leave at source and an increase to the Canada Child Benefit. The Liberal party is also running on the climate change efforts they have put in place since the last election, including carbon pricing system.
The Conservatives are promising a universal tax cut. In addition, they will introduce non-refundable tax credits for new parents on Employment Insurance benefits. The CPC committed to re-introduce tax credits for kids enrolled in sports and arts. However, Scheer’s comments about abortion and same-sex marriage may turn off millennial would-be voters who do not believe his views are forward-thinking enough and do not trust that his views are his own and that he will not re-open the issues.
There are a number of efforts and student groups on campuses trying to encourage millennials to vote. For example, the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations in collaboration with three dozen student associations has a nationwide get-out-the vote campaign and Future Majority, a new non-partisan group, is encouraging students on campus to make a pledge to vote in the upcoming federal election. After a successful pilot in 2015, Elections Canada is again making it easy for young millennials to vote. It is opening 121 offices at 109 campuses (each with more than 4,000 eligible student voters) Oct. 5 to 9 for students to register and vote by special ballot. These efforts may lead to even higher voter turnout for millennials.
While the NDP may benefit from taking a broader approach to who has voted for the party before and their issues of concern such as unions, the NDP would have been foolish to ignore young voters. Parties risk obsolescence if they overlook young people and their concerns. Singh has also recognized that the youngest of the youth are valuable people to consider when developing policy because even though they cannot vote, they still have the ability to influence the way their family members vote. Singh and the NDP hope the movement to get young people out to vote is successful and that it can capture the votes of millennials by addressing their areas of concern and showing energy that young people can relate to.