It really is shameful almost 50 per cent of eligible voters didn’t vote in June’s Ontario election. It is so hard to imagine that voting has become nothing more than an annoyance, or worse, for half the people.
Of those who opted out, young people are among the highest number. The day of the Ontario election, I happened to have separate conversations with two 25-year-olds in our community, one a young man, the other a young woman.
I asked them if they were going to vote, and they both said they wouldn’t. Both of them, and it is interesting how they echoed each other, said they hadn’t followed the election, they didn’t really care about Ontario politics and that they wouldn’t know who to vote for.
In both instances, I tried to tell them what an important thing it was to vote and how easy it was to do. I told them how close their respective voting stations were, in one case, across the street, in the other, down the street. I told them it takes seconds and that, by voting, they would be doing a good thing for themselves. No argument prevailed. Both were among the no-shows. I wondered if they ever had civics lessons in school.
Traditionally, people believed it was important to vote because that is how democracy works. But I was struck by something the young people said, which helps me better understand their position. When they said they never followed the election because they had no interest in it, and they wouldn’t know who to vote for, I wondered if they were just being honest and truthful. Why would you vote, if you hadn’t shown any interest, hadn’t followed the issues and didn’t know who to vote for?
The traditional argument has always been that voting is not just a right, it is an obligation. To some, it is a sacred obligation, which people fought and died for. So, does that mean one should still vote even if they have no idea who to for vote for? Is a thoughtless, mindless vote worthy of the traditional view of the sanctity of the vote itself?
Although it might be easier to understand why young people in such high proportions can’t be bothered to vote, it is, by any measure, sad and worrisome. It is not good for them, or for democracy, or for the country.
One would have thought, in the age of social media, there would be a significant increase in the level of young people’s interest and participation. It certainly helps some young Canadians become more engaged, so one can only wonder how much worse it would be without social media. But the bottom line is that it’s as bad as it is, and there is little, if any, reason to be hopeful.
Twenty-five-year-olds are just starting their lives and their careers. It is unthinkable that the political process doesn’t have an impact on them. The Ontario election was about future debt, jobs and tomorrow’s pensions. All three subjects have such incredibly huge repercussions on young people and their future. The rejection can’t be about the issues. They are all topical. It is something else that drives them away in droves.
Entrenched second generation cynicism is the root cause of today’s indifference among young people. Today’s young people grew up hearing their parents downgrade politics and politicians to such a great extent that they have been completely turned off. They never get to the importance of the issues that affect them, because they never get past the disdain.
It was in the 1980s, in the age of sound clips and the beginning of the 24-hour news cycle, that western politics became somewhat less of an honourable profession. It became more of a media-generated business of people saying what they had to say to get elected in 15-second clips. Damn the consequences of not saying what you really mean, because winning is all that matters.
What is really sad, as much as I don’t want to admit it, I fear young people who don’t vote may be more justified than it appears.