Sunday, January 30, 2011

On habit forming

Elections Canada is looking for ways to target younger voters in order to get them participating when they have the chance. But I have to wonder whether the obvious answer is one which involves actually making the political scene accessible sooner:
While young voters are more likely to vote as they get older, “They are beginning at such a low level of participation that overall turnout can only be expected to decline,” says a 2009 paper commissioned by Elections Canada, the agency that conducts federal elections and referendums.

“That’s a major concern,” says Elections Canada spokesman John Enright. “Surveys are showing us that if we don’t capture them and get them interested and engaged at their first opportunity to vote, we’ve likely lost them forever. They’re going to remain disengaged throughout their lives."
Of course, as matters stand the voting age coincides with an age where it figures to be most difficult to reach young Canadians through any centralized messaging effort. In contrast, the few years before the current voting window make for what's probably the best time to introduce new voters through a consistent process, as for the vast majority of teens it combines at least some level of awareness and education about politics with a handy common voting location.

Which isn't to say that lowering the voting age to allow for an election cycle before voters turn 18 will necessarily help population-wide voting percentages. But if a major part of the current issue is that young Canadians aren't getting in the habit of voting, then wouldn't it make sense to set a voting age where it's easier to help establish some positive habits instead?

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