For the first time ever, millennial voters are set to make up the biggest voting bloc in a federal election.
More millennials are now eligible to vote in Canada than baby boomers, according to Abacus Data, an Ottawa-based research and strategy firm that specializes in data on voting trends and millennials.
However, the big question in the upcoming federal election remains whether large numbers of millennials will come out to vote in support of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau as they did in 2015.
According to Abacus, millennial voters — individuals born between 1980 and 2000 — could have a significant impact on the result of the upcoming federal election, but only if they come out to vote in droves.
However, the company says its findings do not show the same motivation among this year’s younger voters that was present in the last federal election.
In the 2015 federal election, 17 million Canadians came out to vote, the highest turnout since 1993. Elections Canada data from 2015 showed that 57 per cent of voters ages 18 to 24 cast a ballot, an increase of 18.3 per cent from the 2011 election.
According to Abacus, the Liberals were able to capture the largest share of young voters in 2015. Following the federal election that year, research conducted by Abacus on behalf of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations suggested campaigning and get-out-the-vote efforts helped the Liberals win the support of 45 per cent of millennial voters.
While turnout rates increased for all age groups in 2015, the largest upswings were recorded among voters ages 18 to 34, the data firm says.
“I would hazard a guess that it would be different, a little more suppressed this time around, and I think, in 2015, millennials really … came out to vote with enthusiasm for a very specific vision the Liberal party presented under Justin Trudeau.”
According to Korbabicz, millennials often tend to vote for more progressive candidates.
“If you split out vote intention, you’ll see that millennials are much more likely to vote for the NDP or Liberal party, far less likely to identify as Conservative,” Korbabicz said.
However, he said, that doesn’t mean there aren’t Conservative arguments that can effectively capture the imagination of the younger generation.
“Their most important driver, at the end of the day, is having a good, high-quality life and an affordable life that works for them, much like any other Canadian, and there are solutions for that on the right hook of the political spectrum as well as the left,” Korbabicz said.
For example, Korbabicz says, between 60 and 80 per cent of millennial Conservative voters are concerned about climate change, an issue traditionally seen as left-leaning.
When it comes to particular issues that voters view as important, Korbabicz said housing, economic growth and health care are top priorities for millennials.
Korbabicz also said issues like climate change are “much higher” on the list, especially among millennials ages 25 and under, adding that these are the concerns that may be “keeping millennials up at night.”
Impact of low millennial voter turnout
Sean Simpson, vice-president of Ipsos, says that if millennial voters choose to stay home on Oct. 21, the Conservatives will form government rather than the left side of the political spectrum.
Simpson says younger voters are usually more inclined to vote when they have kids, a house or pay income tax because then they have more at stake.
In terms of what can be done to spur higher voter turnout among millennials, political science professor Christopher Cochrane with the University of Toronto says having a candidate that appeals to young people is important. He says the current candidates don’t really seem to be able to connect to voters to the degree that Trudeau was able to in the last federal election.
Cochrane argues that for a lot of voters, politics are about identity and effect.
“If young people have candidates that they can identify with that connect to them then I think, as we saw in the case of Trudeau in the last election, it’s likely to bring them out to the ballot box even more than having politicians talk about certain issues that resonate with youth,” he said.
In relation to the photographs and video of Trudeau in racist makeup that surfaced last week, Cochrane said the news may have impacted the way millennials view the Liberal leader. Ipsos polling data found the news gave Conservatives a four-point lead over the Liberals among all Canadians.
“I think it might affect how people vote, I mean … it might make people less likely to turn out,” Cochrane said. “It’s certainly not going to help him in any way so to the degree that it does affect him, it’s only going to hurt him.”
Cochrane said he doesn’t think the images created as much of a scandal as some had anticipated because some voters viewed the brown- and blackface incidents as having happened a long time ago.
The image of Trudeau in brownface first published by Time magazine was taken at a 2001 event, while a video of the Liberal leader in blackface was filmed in the early 1990s. Trudeau has also acknowledged another instance in which he wore blackface during high school.
— With files from Anna Mehler Paperny and the Canadian Press