In the few remaining days of the election, the NDP will need to be laser focused on youth voter mobilization. The NDP is facing the particular predicament of having secured a base of support amongst the age demographic least likely to vote (those between the ages of 18 and 24). The most recent Abacus Data poll shows the NDP and Liberals tied amongst those 18 to 29 years old, with 32% of the vote share apiece. Elections Canada statistics show that while voter turnout amongst the elusive student demographic increased precipitously in the 2015 election, the turnout gap persisted. Even at the 2015 zenith of electoral participation — the most impressive youth showing since the 1993 federal election — turnout was 20 percentage points lower amongst those between 18 and 24 years of age, than the ever-reliable 65-74 age group. If the NDP is unsuccessful at convincing younger voters to cast a ballot, theoretical support amongst the fresh-faced may only lead to unfulfilled expectations. This pandemic election, the NDP may be in danger of underperforming its national polling numbers – which, according to Abacus Data, is holding steady at 21% support.
There are several factors counter-balancing against youth turnout this election cycle. It is no coincidence that the 2015 hike in young electors coincided in part with the launch of the Vote on Campus Pilot Project, which increased turnout amongst the 18-24 demographic by 9%, during its limited pilot launch. In an attempt to surmount the cluster of barriers disenfranchising post-secondary students — displacement from registered home ridings, heavy student work loads, and transportation issues — Elections Canada opened temporary voting offices in 39 post-secondary campuses. In the 2019 election, the Vote on Campus program expanded its scope even further, to include 86 electoral districts, and 109 post-secondary campuses. To the chagrin of Canada’s New Democrats, Elections Canada announced the scrapping of the program this election — citing a lack of preparedness with the snap election call, in addition to other pandemic-related administrative challenges. Unfortunately for the NDP, Bill C-19 (An Act to Amend the Canada Elections Act), which provided for temporary rules to ensure the safe administration of an election in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, died on the order paper. The bill included pandemic provisions that would have ensured on-campus student access to polling places.
Beyond accessible polling places to enfranchise post-secondary students, recent survey research shows that younger voters are overall less interested in this election than older voters. An Abacus Data survey published on August 16th found that only 66% of voters between the ages of 18-29 reported a “high interest in the campaign,” in contrast to 79% of the 60+ voting demographic. Those voting for the NDP, Green Party, and Bloc Québécois, also self-reported lower levels of interest than Liberal and Conservative voters. As such, overcoming these risk factors for relative political disengagement (younger age and minor party affiliation), remains a priority for the NDP’s GOTV efforts.
What is the orange team’s engagement plan then, with less than a week to go? With advanced polls now complete, the focus shifts to election day. The NDP, which is typically hamstrung by a smaller campaign war chest and a more stretched get-out-the-vote infrastructure, must capitalize on its strengths: tapping into youth activist networks on social media, while leveraging the energy and popularity of its leader. The party’s social media engine has already been busy highlighting some creative voting campaigns from the Early Voting Team, on TikTok, Instagram, and Twitter. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh kicked off the party’s advance voting drive via his own early bird appearance at the ballot box. By voting in-person in his Burnaby South riding on Friday, the first day of advance polling, Mr. Singh was looking to extend the homestretch voting drive. Whether the NDP campaign ultimately succeeds in its mission to cajole the flakiest voting sector into polling stations, is a question that will only be answered when ballots are unstuffed and ‘X’s are tallied. Canada’s New Democrats will be hoping their social get-out-the-vote efforts made their mark.