Opinion

Will Younger Voters’ Low Turnout Once Again Be Big Election Factor?

Under-35 group handed influence to Boomers in 2013 vote.

By Jim Hume 18 Apr 2017 | TheTyee.ca

Jim Hume’s award-winning journalism career has spanned six decades, largely spent covering the B.C. legislature. He blogs at Jim Hume: The Old Islander.

How will the May 9 election in British Columbia go? Frankly, I have no idea. But I’ll make a forecast anyway: If voting patterns continue on the downward trend continuing since 1986, the thousands of citizens who hold the precious right to vote, but fail to exercise it, will again decide the outcome.

It should be disturbing that recent B.C. governments have been elected by just over half the people holding the franchise. But it doesn’t appear to be.

The last time residents of Canada’s west coast province were asked for a decision on future governance only 57 per cent of those eligible bothered to vote. Hardly a resounding victory for those who cherish voting rights so firmly embedded in our Charter of Rights and Freedom — and so casually, almost contemptuously, ignored by close to half of their fellow citizens.

To its credit, Elections BC, a non-partisan office of the Legislature, has laboured mightily in the years between elections to stimulate interest in the process. Its efforts have been backed by all political parties and there has been a measure of success in the increasing numbers of citizens taking the time to make sure their names are on the registered voters’ list.

Unfortunately, their combined efforts have not yet convinced voters there is a second important step to take to fully exercise their franchise — actually casting a ballot.

Statistics can be boring and, more often than not, confusing, but Elections BC stats for the last provincial election in 2013 tell a few remarkably interesting stories. Some should dismay as well as surprise.

In 2013, there were 235,615 registered voters between the ages of 18 and 24 — a veritable army of young bloods with the voting power to swing most ridings. But only 112,918, or 47.9 per cent, chose to spend the few minutes it takes to vote. Read the numbers the other way round and 52 per cent failed to cast their ballots, and the show of energy and responsibility by our future leaders is far from impressive.

But that isn’t the end of British Columbians’ lack of enthusiasm for elections. The last time they were called to the polls registered voters in the 25 to 34 age group numbered 505,345. Only 200,984, a shocking 39.8 per cent, bothered to vote.

No, no, you read that right. Sixty per cent of the movers and shakers of B.C. stayed home. Readers who fell into this category four years ago should be ashamed to realize they were at the bottom of the list of those who took the trouble to register but failed to take the next crucial step and vote.

You can find all the stats in proud or embarrassing splendour — plus everything you ever wanted to know about the May 9 election but didn’t know where to ask at Elections BC.

Did I write “proud or embarrassing” a second ago? Yes, indeed, but proud only if you’re rattling through life on the north side of 50. Nestling triumphantly within the Better Than 50 set are voters between 55 and 64 years — 591,106 registered, of which 393,914 voted (66.6 per cent) and between 65 and 74 — 386,875 registered of which 287,242 voted (74.2 per cent).

The final Elections BC record is for citizens 75 and older, with 312,412 registered voters and 204,518, or 65.5 per cent, who cast ballots. That group had almost 200,000 fewer registered voters than those between 25 and 34, but still cast more votes in the 2013 election, thanks to voter turnout of 65.5 per cent, compared to 47.9 per cent for the younger demographic.

How will it go in May? As I said earlier, I have no idea. But if voting patterns follow the dismal register-but-don’t-vote trend of recent years, the thousands who didn’t vote are again destined to become immediate vociferous critics of the government they never voted for but helped elect.  [Tyee]

Read more: BC Politics

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