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HomePolicy Articles Article Summary

Are Young Canadians Becoming Political Dropouts? A Comparative Perspective

Choices by Henry Milner

In this edition of Choices Henry Milner expresses concern over decreasing voter turnout rates in Canada, suggesting this reality has much to do with an abstention on the part of young voters. Milner seeks to explain what he considers to be a generational phenomenon (the under-30 abstention), and to provide possible solutions to this problem. In this context, he considers the experiences of other countries that have addressed this problem, or resisted it altogether. Before embarking on his comparative analysis, Milner first differentiates between those who deliberately choose not to vote and those who do not vote for other reasons, such as not being politically informed. He is most concerned about the latter group.

Milner considers a number of studies, conducted around the world at different periods in history, designed to test basic political knowledge. In examining these studies he found that declining voter turnout (a trend in North America overall, and not just Canada) is reflected in decline political knowledge throughout society, and primarily in younger people. Further, Milner found the younger generation less motivated to find political information; Milner suggests the reasoning behind this lack of will can be attributed to the fact that many do not feel they have a civic duty to vote.

With this information in mind, Milner then considers the institutions and policies associated with political knowledge and voter turnout. In this regard, he believes electoral systems can serve as a severe impediment to engaging young voters. Proportional representation was found to be more conducive to higher turnout than first-past-the-post systems for a variety of reasons including: an increase in political parties, and thus political options; clearer connections between parties at different levels of government; and, the perception the elections are more competitive. Milner also suggests that the type of media a person uses to obtain information directly correlates to political knowledge; in this regard, he suggests that those who get their political information from television are generally less informed than newspaper readers. Milner also examines he impact of civic education, both inside and outside the classroom, as a means of increasing the political knowledge of potential voters. Milner also addresses key electoral reform issues such as lowering the voting age and establishing fixed election dates as a means of increasing voter turnout. In short, he believes these ideas merit further investigation. To conclude, Milner suggests that electoral reforms necessary, in addition to reforms pertaining to civic education in North America.

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Policy Publication Details

Author(s): Henry Milner;
Publisher: Institute for Research on Public Policy [ Visit Website ]
Year Published: 2005; Publisher Type: Research Institute
Publicly Available: Yes Research Focus: International; National;
Registration Required: No Language: English
Payment Required: No Publication Format: Adobe PDF

Subjects / Categories:

Policy Articles / Citizen Engagement / Elections & Voting
Policy Articles / Citizen Engagement / Elections & Voting / 2005
Policy Articles / Citizen Engagement
Policy Articles / Citizen Engagement / Electoral Reform
Policy Articles / Citizen Engagement / Electoral Reform / 2005

Keywords / Tags:

Canada; young voters; international comparison; political knowledge; electoral reform; civic education; political institutions; media; voter turnout;