There’s a sea change coming to the electorate. In truth, it’s already begun.
The 2019 federal election marked the first time that more millennials were eligible to vote than baby boomers. But it was not the first time the youth vote had a major impact on results. In 2015, young voters came out in droves to vote for Justin Trudeau, helping the Liberals to secure a majority government.
With a new election on the horizon, young voters are paying attention. And according to recent polling conducted by Abacus Data and the Canadian Partnership for Women and Children’s Health (CanWaCH), they’re looking for a leader willing to step up on the world stage.
While 81 per cent of Canadians of all ages are in favour of providing official development assistance (ODA), youth aged 18-29 are the most enthusiastic. 84 per cent of youth support Canada providing ODA, including 25 per cent who “strongly support”. Additionally, over a third of young Canadians (35 per cent) believe that the federal government’s current spending on ODA falls short.
When it comes to Canada’s role in international development, the majority of youth (55 per cent) expect Canada to do its fair share, while an additional 36 per cent say they want Canada to be a leader in improving the lives of others around the world — the most of any age group.
That’s not to say young voters are turning a blind eye to domestic issues. The rising cost of living and housing affordability are among the top concerns for all Canadians, including the countless young people for whom home ownership feels out of reach.
Still, youth are more preoccupied with global issues than older adults. One third (33 per cent) of youth say global issues are something they care strongly about, often spend time learning about, and are involved or interested in getting involved. This compared with just 25 per cent of respondents overall.
That pull to get involved in relevant issues is another reason for political leaders to prioritize buy-in from young people. Unlike their older counterparts, Canadian youth are significantly more likely to raise their voices through internet petitions, demonstrations and social activism. They understand that the challenges facing humanity — poverty, health inequities and climate change, to name a few — are not confined by borders, and they are unwilling to accept a status quo that fails to address global disparities.
Critics will dismiss the importance of the youth vote citing historically poor voter turnout, but the force of this growing demographic should not be underestimated. As youth keep a close watch on the actions and policies of aspiring candidates, their support could ultimately mean the difference between a majority or minority government, or a victory all together.
Young people today are actively engaged in shaping the political landscape, and they cannot be placated by vague promises to improve life here in Canada. They are driven by a profound sense of social responsibility and a belief in the interconnectedness of our world.
While these global concerns may be grounded in morality, they are also pragmatic. Millennial and Gen-Z voters can expect to live through more of the consequences of today’s foreign investments (or lack thereof). Theirs is a long game that is hard to criticize, similar to patterns of concern over climate change.
As young voters step forward to shape the future, they want a leader who’s willing to play the long game with them. Now is the time for decision makers to recognize the significance of the youth vote and the growing consensus among young Canadians that international assistance is not optional but essential.
By committing to meaningful investments into a healthier future for all, aspiring governments can win the hearts, minds and votes of the next generation. Young voters have been clear in their call for strong global citizenship. The question is, who is ready to listen?