The youth vote has traditionally been one with a low turnout. In America, they are aware of this, and during the presidential election both the Republicans and the Democrats are devoting part of their campaign to connecting with young voters. Typically defined as those 18–21, the ‘youth vote’ can also be anyone under 25.
The United States Republican Party held their national convention last week in Tampa, Florida to officially nominate Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan as candidates for president and vice-president, respectively. Clint Eastwood was the mystery speaker at the convention, and his speech went viral, in a very bad way. He appeared to be searching for words, and stumbling over them when he could find them. He was also talking to a chair — this did nothing to attract young voters to the party.
In 2008, the youth vote was partially responsible for electing Democrat Barack Obama to power, but will he have their support this time around? Last month a Gallup poll reported that 58 per cent of 18–29 year olds say they intend to vote this year, which is the lowest ‘intent to vote’ percentage of any age demographic.
Approximately 51 per cent of eligible voters under 30 voted in 2008. Exit polls reported that 66 per cent of them voted for Obama. Obama clearly did a great job of reaching out to youth voters last time around, but can he make his platform relevant to young voters this time? The whole ‘making history’ part is gone. So, too, is the hope for change. Ryan, 42, could potentially woo the young voters who are not as enchanted by Obama as their 2008 counterparts. They had hoped things would get better in America with their choice, but Obama can’t run on hope and change anymore now that he has a track record. Support, however, is still there for the president. A Hiram College poll in August showed 50 per cent of 18–29 year olds favoured Obama, where only 37 per cent favoured Romney.
The use of social media in the 2008 election allowed the Democratic Party to tap into the youth vote and gain a substantial advantage in the race for presidency. Obama’s twitter campaign, and recent Reddit appearance are famous for having seduced many young people into the realm of politics.
To attract young voters, both parties need to hold events, such as concerts and university stops, to reach out to young voters. So far Obama has made stops at universities in North Carolina, Colorado and Iowa, and he also visited Virginia Commonwealth University and Ohio State university in May. Romney has also made stops at universities, taking questions from students and trying to address specific concerns.
Students in Canada hear about the American presidential election and what they do affects us. Why, then, aren’t students considered by the campaigning parties like they are in America?
In Alberta, it is mostly university advocacy groups that are encouraging young people to vote. The Council of Alberta University students has rallied with their “Get Out The Vote” campaign, signing up over 10,000 university students in Alberta who have pledged to vote, and then calling, emailing and texting them to remind them of their pledge to be heard. This has led to increases in voter turnout at university constituencies.
The definition of ordinary residency, however, causes a problem for many students in Alberta. In 2009, CAUS pointed out that Alberta’s election laws were the most difficult in the country for letting students choose between voting where they live while going to school, or where their family lives. This should be changed to allow students the choice of selecting either where they live during school or where their family lives as their place of ordinary residence.
CAUS believes that one bad experience can put a student off voting for life, and that easing a student’s first trip to the polls will create a pattern of civic engagement.
The laws should change to allow advance voting stations for multiple constituencies on post-secondary campuses and to permit advance voting for all constituencies at any returning office as well as at any advance voting station.
But, more importantly, students actually have to take it upon themselves to care about voting and find a way to get to the polls. And even though Harper, Redford and other party leaders should stop more frequently at Canadian universities during their campaigns, it still falls on us to make our voices heard.
That being said, Canadian politics would do well to take a page out of the American elections book. Youth voter approval has serious potential for political rewards.