Election study offers a glimpse of the Canada of the Future

The Canada of the future will be more politically disengaged, more socially liberal, and more inclined to experiment with changes to universal health care, suggest the findings of a major study of eligible voters before and after the 2011 federal election.

Before and after every federal election, a team of academics takes the country’s pulse to help the nation understand why people vote the way they do, and how political attitudes are changing.

Now that the results of the 2011 Canadian Election Study are out and available for public examination, it’s time to do some number-crunching. (Note that all opinions expressed here are the blogger’s, and not necessarily those of the Canadian Election Study project team.)

Voter turnout has been a serious concern in the past few federal elections. We Canadians used to pride ourselves on a strong voting day turnout, but those days are behind us — seemingly for a long time to come.

In 2011, 54 percent of Canada’s voting age population turned out to vote — a fraction of a percentage point higher than the turnout rate for the 2008 election, but well below the 68 percent turnout in the 1988 election, or the 75 percent post-war record high in 1958.

The first graph below shows that those born before 1940 showed the greatest level of political interest in the weeks leading up to the 2011 election, while younger generations were less likely to be interested in the campaign.

Interest in the federal election by year of birth, Canada 2011

It is natural that younger Canadians would be less interested given that they are less likely to have a relationship with any political party. Look at the graph below, and you’ll see that among those Canadians born before 1940, more than one-in-four are a current or former member of a political party. Yet among those born in the ’70s, ’80s and early ’90s — now between the ages of 19 and 42 years — fewer than one-in-ten are or have ever been a card-carrying party member.

The average age of a current or former card-carrying party member in 2011: 62 years.

Past or present party affiliation by year of birth, Canada 2011

Turned off by politics, many younger Canadians told the Canadian Election Study in the weeks leading up to the 2011 federal election that they would not feel guilty about not voting. While nearly one-half of Canadians born before 1940 said they would feel very guilty if they didn’t vote, fewer than one-in-four Canadians born in the ’70s said they would feel the same way. Among those born in the ’80s and early ’90s, less than one-in-five said they would feel very guilty about not voting, while more than twice as many would feel no guilt at all.

Likelihood of feeling guilt about not voting, by year of birth, Canada 2011

Those born in the ’80s and early ’90s were also split on whether or not voting was a duty or a choice. Though a majority (56%) still thought it was a duty to vote, this is down sharply from the 67 percent of the ’70s generation who felt it was a duty to vote. The difference compared to those born in the ’40s and earlier is even more stark.

Voting as a duty or a choice by year of birth, Canada 2011

Politicians hoping to get their messages through to Canadians will find it more difficult to do so through traditional means, such as newspapers and TV news. While Canadians born before 1930 almost universally watched television news on a daily basis and, on average, read newspapers five days per week, the average younger Canadian born 1980-1993 watches television news only 3-4 days per week and only reads newspapers 2-3 days per week.

Weekly news consumption by year of birth, Canada 2011

Those born in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s do have a big redeeming quality, though: they are in many ways a very tolerant generation. As shown below, positive feelings about Aboriginal Canadians, gays and lesbians, feminists and racial minorities tend to be more common among newer generations of Canadians than in the past, suggesting that Canada will continue to become a more open and tolerant country.

Feelings about Aboriginals, Gays and Lesbians, Feminists and Racial Minorities, by year of birth, Canada 2011

Debates about whether or not women should work outside the home will become rarer in the future, as it appears that every generation of Canadians from those born in the ’50s on rejects the notion that society would be better off if fewer women worked outside the home.

Attitudes on women working outside the home, by year of birth, Canada 2011

Are those born in the ’80s and ’90s more inclined to stay close to home instead of moving far away? Maybe so. If asked whether people should be ready to move if they can’t find work in their home region, large majorities of Canadians born in the ’40s and earlier said “yes”. Among those born in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, you would also get two yeses for every “no”. Yet among those born in the ’80s and early ’90s, there’s almost a perfectly even split.

Attitudes about moving to other regions to find work, by year of birth, Canada 2011

Another question on which a 50-50 split is forming is whether or not Canada should have a two-tiered health care system, mixing public and private, for-profit services. Among those born before 1970, the answer is a firm “no”. But among those born in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, about as many support as oppose two-tiered health care.

Opinions on two-tiered health care by year of birth, Canada 2011

But before you get the impression that younger Canadians are ardent free-enterprisers, check this out. When asked what is the best way to deal with major economic problems, younger Canadians born from 1980 onward favoured government action over leaving things to the private sector by a margin of more than three-to-one. Steady generational increases in support of government intervention suggests that government will remain expected to play an active role in the economy for years to come.

Opinions on government involvement in the economy by year of birth, Canada 2011


About theviewfromseven
A lone wolf and a bit of a contrarian who sometimes has something to share.

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