Who Benefits From Low Voter Turnout?

April 14, 2011

2-minute read

Right now people in other parts of the world are laying their lives on the line in the fight to bring democracy to their country in the hope they might one day cast a ballot in a free and fair election.

In Canada, increasing numbers of us aren’t voting.

Politics are boring. I don’t like any of the leaders. Nothing is going to change. My vote doesn’t really count, anyway.

The excuses Canadians give for not voting are many but evidence suggests one party in particular benefits from it—the Conservatives.

Only 58% of Canadians voted in the last federal election, a historic low. Conservative attack ads against then-Liberal leader Stephan Dion were key in turning many voters off. An Angus Reid poll found 11% of Canadians were dissuaded from voting as a result of those ads. The Conservatives got 37% of the popular vote in the last election. The Liberals got 26%. 

Things aren’t looking good for voter participation in this election, either. A recent Ipsos Reid poll found that only 57% of Canadian adults are “certain” to vote this time around.

Conservative Party supporters are more committed and more likely to vote than those of the Liberals or NDP. The recent by-election in the “905” riding of Vaughan show how the Conservatives can benefit from low voter turnout. Analysis by the Rideau Institute’s Jim Thompson shows “voter turnout was down by about one-third in the by-election compared to the general election in 2008. The Liberal vote fell by about the same percentage. But the Conservatives were able to turn out almost the exact same number of votes during both contests.”



  By-election 2008
Turnout 32.5% 52%
Conservative 19,290 19,390
Liberal 18,326 27,773
NDP 661 5,442

Voter turnout is especially low amongst youth, only 37% of 18-24 year-olds voted in the 2008 election. Too bad they don’t realize Parliament would look very different if they showed up to vote in similar proportions to the rest of the population.

I can understand why so many Canadians feel disinclined to vote—our electoral system is far from perfect—but turning our backs isn’t the answer to the problem, it will only make things worse. A healthy and vibrant democracy depends on the participation of a broad range of its citizens: that’s us. All of us.

Our vote is our voice. Let’s make ourselves heard, loud and clear.

Kerri-Anne Finn is the CCPA's Senior Communications Officer.

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