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Presented by: Tracy Lavin, Associate Research Scientist, CCL Charles Ungerleider, Director, Research and Knowledge Mobilization, CCL
Voter turnout in Canadian elections has fallen sharply in the last 20 years. Turnout was estimated at 75% for the 1988 federal election and, after declining in each subsequent election, hit a record low of 61% in the 2004 election.
This decline in voter participation has been attributed to the combined effects of generational replacement and strikingly low participation rates among young voters (i.e., more recent generations are less likely to vote and are representing an increasing proportion of the electorate; Blais et al., 2004). For example, the turnout rate for 18- to 21-year-olds (i.e., first time voters) was just 39% in the 2004 federal elections (Kingsley, 2004)—more than 20 percentage points below the overall turnout rate.
A number of factors have been proposed to account for these low participation rates; from a learning perspective, changes in civics or social studies education have been blamed for voter apathy and lack of political knowledge among young people. This line of reasoning could hold significant curricular and educational policy implications; thus, it is important to consider any evidence that might inform this question.
Using Canadian Elections Studies data, we examined the relationship between two factors as it pertained to respondents’ likelihood of reporting that they planned to vote in the next election. These factors were: (1) interest in politics and (2) civics education in high school. Our analysis indicates that high school civics education has some impact on reported voting behaviour, but only for respondents with low interest in politics.
For respondents who reported little to no interest in politics, those who had taken a civics course in high school reported a significantly greater likelihood of voting in the next election than those who had not taken civics in high school. These findings suggest that enhancing high-school civics education could be an effective means of increasing voter participation among populations who are currently least likely to vote.
The findings are featured in the Jan. 18, 2006, issue of Lessons in Learning, Falling voter turnout: Is it linked to diminished civics education?
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