Canada, like many western democracies, has seen a steady decline in voter turnout in the last two decades. Electoral participation reached an all-time low of 59 per cent in the 2008 federal election and voter turnout in most provinces is hovering above or below 50 per cent.
Even more concerning is the fact that low voter turnout is disproportionately concentrated among young Canadians. This has serious implications for the future of Canadian democracy as the research suggests that habits of voting and non-voting persist over time and one of the best predictors of individual turnout is whether or not a person voted in the previous election.
Following the 2011 federal election, Elections Canada commissioned the National Youth Survey to investigate the barriers that limit electoral participation among Canadian youth. The largest motivational barriers were lack of political interest and knowledge, a belief that all political parties were the same and that no party spoke to issues relevant to youth, and a lower sense that voting was a civic duty. The most important access barrier was lack of knowledge about the electoral process, including not knowing about different ways to vote and not knowing how or when to vote.
An independent evaluation of the Student Vote Program was conducted by Elevate Consulting on behalf of Elections Canada in 2011. The evaluation was conducted to determine the effectiveness of the Student Vote Program in achieving its civic education objectives among students, teachers and parents.
The Student Vote Program Evaluation's main findings include:
- The program is having a significant positive impact on students' knowledge of politics and the electoral process, political discussion with parents, interest in politics and civic duty, which are all important predictors of voting.
- The program is well received by teachers, who praise the materials and support they receive from Student Vote. Teacher satisfaction is very high, with 99 per cent of participating teachers saying they would participate in the program in the future.
- Teachers felt that their own knowledge and confidence in teaching civic education had increased as a result of the program.
- Both teachers and parents report that the program has a significant, positive civics-related impact on students.
- Over 60 per cent of parents reported an increase in their own political interest and knowledge as a result of their child's participation in the program. The program also provided their family with more opportunities to learn about and discuss politics.
- Among parents who voted, 20 per cent reported that their child's participation in the Student Vote Program positively affected their decision to vote.
The results of the National Youth Survey underscore the importance of early civic education and Student Vote Evaluation confirms the effectiveness in developing future voters and engaging families in the democratic process.