In school, but out of touch

Voting practices not apparent in universities, directly translates to federal elections

Teenagers often get their first chance to evoke positive change in high school, though the roles of student presidents and council members are not necessarily vital to the operation of the school.

In any case, it is where many get their first taste of politics.

In university, a lot of things change. The classes are more difficult, the pace is much more fast, and many students are often propelled into adulthood in the short time they spend in post-secondary.

Student government changes in university, too. It matters much more. Student executives have the power and opportunity to shape the entire school. They have the opportunity to lead their school into new and often innovative territory. 

Yet the attitudes towards student government in university does not change. Students are either unaware of the power student executives hold or are too busy to care about the changes made, simply because their time in university is temporary.

These issues are especially problematic because it explains the exceptionally low voter turnout.

This infographic helps visualize the problem with young voters in today's society.

This infographic helps visualize the problem with young voters in today’s society.

According to an article written in the griff last year, MacEwan University’s voter turnout in last year’s Executive Committee election was just over 19 per cent. Over at the University of Alberta, voter turnout in the last election was just over 17 per cent.

Not only is this an issue in itself, but it is also part of a much bigger issue: voter turnout in municipal, provincial and federal elections.

Universities facilitate years of reflection and learning for all students, both in and out of the classroom. It is during this time that people are most impressionable. According to a study performed by the American Psychological Association, people are “highly susceptible to attitude change during late adolescence and early adulthood.”

This means a lot of habits are picked up and developed during university.

Looking at voter turnout, it seems to support the findings. In the 2011 federal election, those aged 18-24 voted the least out of any age group, with just under 39 per cent showing up to the polls, according to Elections Canada.

Of those in the that age group who did not vote, 30 per cent of them cited their reasoning for not voting as “not interested.”

Additionally, according to a 2014 study by Statistics Canada, there are almost 2.5 million people in the country aged 20-24. Coupled with the previous data regarding voter turnout amongst those aged 18-24, it is estimated that 1.525 million people in that age group did not vote in the previous federal election.

Though the age ranges are slightly different, the problem still remains. Considering there was a 1.3 million vote difference between the Conservatives and the NDP, just those in one age group could have changed the election.

Granted, not every single voter would vote NDP, but the fact that there were enough non-votes to swing an election in a single five-year age group says something.

Some may argue the answer to the lack of voter turnout is instilling a mandatory voting system. In a 2011 article from The Globe and Mail, Alison Loat, who studies engagement with Canadian democracy, said it best: “I’d rather figure out why people are not voting, and what can we actually do to address the causes of that, rather than just address the symptoms.”

A mandatory voting system is exactly that: a cure for the symptoms. To fix the root of the problem, the practice needs to be implemented and promoted at the most critical times of impressionability — late adolescence and early adulthood.

The circle becomes full. Students need to be convinced that voting is in their best interest, both for now and in the future. Often, those who do not vote cite the reasoning as “I only have one/two years left, what happens after I leave is irrelevant.”

It holds some merit, but consider this: in 10 years, when a potential employer is looking at a resume and sees a degree from a school that has a history of success and leadership, it makes the degree look all that much better. The degree might not be one of the best of its kind currently, but with the right leaders and a little bit of luck, student executives can help steer the ship towards positive change.

Time in university may be temporary, but a degree is for life.

When given the opportunity to vote in any election, take a few minutes to educate yourself on those running, and make the best decision possible based on your specific interests. Figure out what your biggest concerns are, and decide who is going to be the best candidate to work to fix said issues.

Winston Churchill once said that “democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” It may not be perfect, but the more educated votes cast, the better the system is.