Who’s the ballot boss?
The Environics Institute is a successful non-profit Canadian research group that can give you a lot of information (mostly after the fact) on why Canadians do the things they do.
They can tell you why the pollsters seemed to have gotten things so wrong in the recent B.C. provincial elections. They can also give you insights on why Justin Trudeau would admit publicly that he took a puff of the pernicious weed (and inhaled) while he was a sitting MP.
They can also give you hints on why those two issues are connected.
And, just for fun, if you look on their website, they will tell you which Canadian “tribe” you belong to.
Environics founder and president Michael Adams has just written an essay for The Globe and Mail, painting with broad strokes how young voters, not boomers, could hold the balance of power in our policies and politics — if only they would use it.
In the B.C. provincial election campaign, the NDP under leader Adrian Dix consistently polled far ahead of the Liberals under Christy Clark.
Election spending reports just released show the NDP raised about $1 million more than the Liberals in campaign donations. A huge rise in individual donations ($4.4 million versus the $2.8 million they had raised in 2009) accounted for most of the increase.
Where did that money come from? The demographics of campaign fundraising are not publicly disclosed, but from reading Adams’ article, we can surmise a lot of it must have come from younger voters.
The subset of voters under the age of 35 who are willing to give money to a political party is not likely a very large portion of the total group.
But NDP policies in the last campaign appealed to youth, something that pollsters quickly picked up and reported quite accurately. The polling picture of the population as a whole was truthfully reported — a majority of voters did support the NDP.
Too bad, though (for the younger voters, anyway) that enough young people didn’t actually vote. Clark’s Liberal supporters generally did.
Environics designs its polls for more than political voting intentions. They poll for societal attitudes.
What Environics sees, writes Adams, is that the younger people are, the less likely they are to defer to authority and institutions, and the less likely they are to see voting as a citizen’s duty.
Far less than half of voters under 35 vote, while the national average is 61 per cent, says Environics. That means the heavy turnout of older voters will see their beliefs and attitudes reflected in government policy.
All the more reason, I suggest, why young people would become less and less interested in public policy. They don’t vote, their attitudes are not represented, so they become even more disaffected with institutions.
Adams sees young people as idealistic but not connected with institutions. They are deeply concerned about the unfairness of how wealth is distributed in society. They score highly on values of social connection, empathy and introspection, but this does not translate to affinity for the political process.
Unless, Adams suggests, a particular leader can make a strong emotional connection.
Jack Layton did that in the last federal election and that’s why the NDP became the official opposition. Take a look at your TV screen; does current leader Thomas Mulcair radiate that emotional connection young voters need?
The newly-minted Liberal leader, Trudeau, is trying hard to make that connection.
Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper is not trying at all.
So the more the Conservatives paint Trudeau as some kind of flake for admitting he has smoked pot in the past, the more disaffected young voters will ignore what the Conservatives have to say — about anything.
Trudeau tries to reflect attitudes that question authority and disagreement with the current balance of income in society. He wants to see Canada’s middle class restored, with the very rich holding less of their majority of Canadian wealth.
So, apparently, do young voters — if only they would vote. If they would, says Adams, the balance of power could swing widely. But only if young voters maintain an emotional bond with a particular leader, enough to bring them to the voting booth.
My sense is that Trudeau is far from being a lightweight or flake in attempting to connect with younger voters. He’s looking at attitudes, not voting intentions right now. This demographic represents the only swing vote that hasn’t really swung yet.
Greg Neiman is a retired Advocate editor. Follow his blog at readersadvocate.blogspot.ca or email email@example.com.