Dawn Muenchrath/the Gauntlet

School Dispirit

Voter apathy is okay, I guess

Publication YearIssue Date 

Do not vote if you do not know what you are voting for. With the University of Calgary’s Students’ Union elections just around the corner, one of the issues candidates hope to address is voter apathy. It is difficult to make people care about something they do not care about without incentive, which the SU doesn’t provide. The long-term benefits of a successful SU administration are not apparent to students. People often don’t realize that, despite the whimsical nature of SU elections, many of the positions wield genuine authority that will affect the future quality of their education. As an example, the vice-president operations and finance helps oversee a budget exceeding $16 million. 

Apathy is a problem that has plagued not only the U of C, but federal elections as well. Only 38.8 per cent of voters aged 18–24 cast ballots during the 2011 federal election, compared to 61.1 per cent total voter turnout. Yet, as pathetic as this number is, it is still a few leagues ahead of the U of C’s voter turnout: a whopping 22.5 per cent of eligible students, which is not a passing grade in any course. So the politically passionate try to galvanize their friends, bombarding us with the phrase “get out and vote.” This is an admirable but only occasionally useful sentiment. Dragging people, either by peer pressure or by hair, to the ballot boxes in support of platforms they have not read does not translate into an effective or deserving government. 

Plenty of candidates last year presented themselves outstandingly and were ignored in favour of sensationalism and triviality. Remember the stir caused by Hayley Wade’s “Great Dick Bro” poster? It won her the election. The Red Ranger, a joke candidate, accumulated more votes than Hardave Birk, the current SU president. This does not reflect kindly on the average U of C voter. 

In 2000, the Gauntlet suggested that the “pathetic” voter turnout that year — 11 per cent — was a result of U of C’s commuter campus: most students were still living at home and often had their expenses, including tuition, paid for. They did not need to take advantage of student government funds because, according to the Gauntlet, “approximately 75 per cent of the campus continues to suckle Mommy.” Alberta continues to be financially stable, so it is possible that parents are supporting their children’s educational costs, making that line of reasoning still relevant. Another possibility is that students who are ready to graduate may feel they have little reason to vote. 

Other universities do not fare much better than the U of C. The University of Victoria had a 20.9 per cent voter turnout in 2012, the University of Toronto had 18 per cent in 2011. Queen’s, the University of Saskatchewan and the University of Toronto are all doing better — within the 40–44 percentile — but the numbers still suggest a majority of uninterested students. 

Institutions such as Elections Canada are having trouble figuring out what causes voter apathy among youth, but the answer seems clear: students don’t give a shit because they think student government is useless, and students don’t want to put in the extra time to make a decision. If that is the way you feel, if you are not prepared to inform yourself and consider your decision carefully, then don’t vote — go drink in The Den, study for midterms, play Skyrim. We all have stuff going on and everyone would like fewer demands for their attention, but do not sit down in the ballot booth and vote for whomever your significant other or roommate is voting for, or randomly tick off names you think sound funny or whose slogans you recognize. The voters and candidates that have made an effort to actually engage with the process deserve better, and a government formed by a small, but well-informed core of voters will be more efficient than a propaganda-driven mess appealing to the lowest common denominator.