If a recent StudentVu survey is any indication, the chances of being elected will hinge on the voting demographic of PSE students who traditionally vote left of centre. Perhaps more than any time in recent history, young voters are informed, engaged and ready to act for change with a vote.
The StudentVu survey of 1,500 PSE students shows that just over three quarters of respondents (76%) plan to vote in the October election despite believing that their preferred party, the NDP – which is followed by the Liberals in preference – will lose to the Conservatives.
As the election looms and engagement of this demographic appears to be the highest in recent memory, an important question is taking shape: are students taking their right to vote more seriously despite what they believe the election outcome might be? Or, will they go to the polls believing their votes don’t matter? There is some historic precedent here: although 76% are eager to cast their votes now, they may not show up on October 19th. Add the controversial Fair Elections Act into the mix, and things look a little more positive for the incumbent party. The job of hopeful rivals is to encourage historic turnout by younger voters.
Party of choice vs Party expected to win vs Party that respondents hope will not win
What matters to students: national interests ahead of personal ones
Tie this information to voting numbers from the 2011 election, where barely 39% of 18–24-year-olds voted and the Conservatives returned to power with a majority, and a similar result could unfold in October. A closer look at the StudentVu results reveals that students, despite their belief that the NDP will directly benefit their PSE experience the most, have a vested interested in the nation’s success. In fact, most respondents put the country’s interests, such as jobs, health care, and the economy, ahead of concerns about their educations by a 30% margin.
Students looking for a credible alternative
History has not been kind to political parties that rely on student votes. What the StudentVu survey highlights is that none of the parties truly represent current students well, although the NDP and the Liberals to a certain extent have an opportunity, if they tailor their message. Students sense this and despite their best intentions to vote, likely won’t unless these parties can manage to position themselves as that credible alternative. The alternate scenario may see the 76% of students who say they will vote for the NDP, move to the centre and vote Liberal, if only to throw their support behind a potential winner.
Why will you vote for your selected party?
To waste a vote or not
Why do so many students plan to vote if they think their preferred party won’t get elected? One student argued in the StudentVu survey that it might be the influence of the media creating a binary of the Conservatives versus everyone else.
“[There is a problem with ] saying a party won’t win - the more people who say it,
and the more influential they are - the more likely it will be true.”
Or, it could it be that the NDP are simply the default party of choice for the PSE demographic. Research shows that the Conservatives are generally far less popular among students than they are across the general population. One student said,
“It’s very unfortunate that all of the young people I know that go to vote are not properly represented. Instead, we must vote for the “least objectionable” option, or the party that will be least bad.”
Is this a recipe for vote splitting between the Liberals and NDP?
Invisible minority, not any more
PSE students can feel as though they are an invisible minority on the great electoral landscape – the forgotten demographic – which can lend itself to voting cynicism. This can result in a very low student voter turnout (as in 2011). Students appear to believe that the Conservatives will create problems for their education and not lead Canada in an honest and transparent manner, despite believing they will win the election.
As the October 19th federal election approaches, stay tuned for more StudentVu results where we’ll see how student intentions aligned with the actual election outcomes. At that point hindsight will be 20/20, but today, seeing a highly engaged population of young voters is encouraging. How many of them remain so depends on the next four and a half weeks, and whether the parties shift message and focus to this potentially powerful demographic.
This article is not an endorsement by Academica Group of any political party or politician.