Ahmed Dirie spent years thinking voting didn’t matter.
Dirie is part of generation Z: a group of first-time voters who are amped about issues like tuition fees and climate change. People in this generation can range from ages 14 to 24, but experts haven’t pinpointed an exact start and end time.
Dirie says he sees the impact an election can have on his little brother, who is just entering university. Things have shifted since the Progressive Conservatives won the last Ontario election and made changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP), which will make it harder for his brother to pay for school. “He doesn’t have as much OSAP money as my sister did … we have to work harder to get him through school.”
“We have the most power, but we think we don’t.”
The largest voting bloc of 2019
When it comes to this year’s federal election, generation Z, along with millennials, will make up the largest voting bloc of 2019. More millennials are eligible to vote than baby boomers, Ottawa-based research and strategy firm Abacus Data reported in September,
But this year’s young voters don’t show the same motivation as last election’s young voters, according to Abacus Data.
Sean Simpson, vice-president of Ipsos, previously told Global News if millennials, for example, don’t vote on Oct. 21, the Conservatives can easily form a government.
An Ipsos poll, conducted exclusively for Global News from Sept. 20 to 23 found young voters, between the ages of 18 and 34, were more likely to vote Liberal, NDP or Green.
Bryn de Chastelain, vice president of academic and advocacy with the Saint Mary’s University Student’s Association in Halifax, previously told Global News he has more hope.
“The Canadian Alliance of Students Associations — which we’re a part of — put out a poll in March that shows 93 per cent of post-secondary students are planning on voting in this year’s election.”
Why these Gen Z-ers are voting this year
But this generation seems hopeful as well.
Dirie says he will encourage his own friends to vote on Oct. 21 — whether this means letting them know how to register to vote or even simply showing them how “easy” it is.
Darren James Aning, 19, works with Generation Chosen, a Toronto based non-profit organization focused on young adults from marginalized communities. Aning says through the organization, more young people are learning about federal leaders, policies and the importance of voting in general.
He is excited to vote on Oct. 21, adding he truly feels like his vote matters.
“I feel like when we don’t vote … it’s not helpful to anyone.”
Sarah Kinchlea, 18, says it almost feels like there is pressure for her generation to vote in this upcoming election.
“For young people … it’s almost like it’s their hands to turn the world around, that’s what everybody keeps saying,” she said. “It feels like it’s our responsibility to change the world. And that is a big responsibility.”
For university student Eunice Yong, 18, voting is not only a democratic right, but something she says we should all encourage others around us to do — especially people who typically don’t vote.
Yong herself is committed to making sure her own friends vote, even if they don’t know who to vote for. And even if data suggests young people won’t come out and vote this year, she sees it differently.
“Yes, we’re young and we might not have all the degrees or expertise [in the election], but we have that passion and that leads us to somewhere big and great in the future.”
Engaged and under 18
It’s not just Gen Z-ers who are the legal age to vote who feel a need for change. Several students in this generation under 18 tell Global News they feel much more engaged with politics in general. Whether this means mock elections at school or classes that focus on news headlines, many under 18 have this upcoming election on their radar.
Sam Kaplun, 16, of Toronto says whether you can vote or not, the impact of the election will still affect young people.
Hanna Ekrami says sometimes her generation doesn’t get enough credit for how much they actually understand about what’s going on in the world. The 13-year-old is eager to vote when she turns 18.
“We are even more concerned than other [older] people, because we’re growing up and we have to see this all happen.”
Julian Bauer-Kong, also, 13, adds his generation and age group generally are more in tune with what’s going on because of social media. “We see a lot of news … this is how we learn about the world and how people our age share what they care about.”
Lauren Nathens, 16, says while some people in her generation don’t care about the world around them, it is becoming harder and harder to avoid these conversions, especially in school. Her school in Toronto, for example, has everything from a women’s empowerment club to a Black Student Union to several other activism groups and clubs that target youth.
“I wouldn’t even call it activism at this point… it is such a specific term,” she said. “You don’t need to be active, you just need to understand what’s happening.”
What worries Gen Z? The climate
But the one issue that stood out for all students is climate change.
From discussing the Amazon fires to drastic weather changes to banning plastic, generation Z can be very outwardly passionate about the climate. In September, hundreds of people across Canada took part in a climate strike, bringing awareness to climate change.
Kaplun says he is learning a lot more about science and the climate in his classrooms. He can see why people in his generation are overly concerned.
“We’re going to live longer and we’re more likely to see the serious impacts that climate change is going to have.”
Kinchlea agrees, adding social media — and really the constant reminder of climate change — is one of the strongest driving forces to make people care. She is personally inspired by young climate change activist Greta Thunberg.
“It’s a huge thing because people are seeing themselves in her,” she said. “The fact that she was so young and able to get to such a high position … that’s motivating young people.”
There are often links between young people, general apathy and low voter turn out, but some Gen Z-ers think it’s changing.
Aliya Varma, 21, of Montreal says as a political science student, she feels like she is constantly surrounded by news.
“The notion that youth do not care about politics is completely false. If anything, we are a group of people who worry about our futures not only in terms of employment, but the state of the environment and its future,” she said. “Everything nowadays is political.”
Kieran Morgan, 19, of Ottawa agrees. “I’ve seen more passionate discussion about politics among people my age than any other demographic.”
But Perushka Gopalkista, 22, says federal leaders could be doing a better job appealing to young people.
Credit: Brent Rose, art by Laura Whelan
— With files from Taz Dhaliwal, Jesse Thomas