“YOUTH” VOTER APATHY: Or, “Did you see that thing about the election on Facebook?”

Friday, October 16, 2015

  • Image courtesy of the CBC

    Image courtesy of the CBC

Written by Jaimee-Lisa Cotter

It’s a hard topic to escape right now: media coverage, student groups and candidates canvasing on campus, everyone and their mother telling you how important it is to vote… It may be over-bearing, but it’s difficult not to find justification for it.

In the 2011 federal election, and astonishingly low 38.8 per cent of Canadian citizens between the ages of 18-24 voted. To break that down a little further: According to Census Canada, in 2011 the total population was 31 612 897. And 24 257 592 of those were eligible or already registered to vote. Only 14 823 408 did. That’s pretty pathetic, folks.

These are the types of stats you’ve seen thrown specifically at youth voters in Canada, from campus to online community, using colourful infographics and bright, attention grabbing illustrations to pull us into voting.

And while some people think it’s unnecessary, obnoxious and unconventional, there are tell tale signs that these types of tactics (colourful and simplistic though they may be) are actually working: Elections Canada says an estimated 850000 people voted on October 9, the first day of advance polls for the 2015 federal election. They’re touting these numbers as a 26 per cent increase over the first day of advance polls for the 2011 election, and an incredible 90 per cent over the first day of advance polls in 2008. This is some pretty amazing news, considering that fun piece of recent legislation known as the “Fair Elections Act”, introduced increasingly strict identification requirements, making it difficult for, as the Globe and Mail very subtly put it, “certain Canadians” to vote. One of the groups in those “certain Canadians” are students and youth.

In this day and age, where information is pumped into us at every turn possible and the spotlight on accessibility is at an all time high, one can’t help but wonder if it’s sheer laziness to “not know enough about politics to vote”. Do you understand the anatomy of a beta fish well enough to have one? No, but it’s still sitting on your desk in water you haven’t changed since midterms started, and that’s not stopping you from being a pet owner. That’s because you can condense its care regimen to an essential overview: two pellets, twice a day. Cool. Easy stuff. 

Maybe what’s required to get people at polling stations is exactly this manner of condensing information: if it’s easy enough to read the side of a fish food container, or to go on Facebook and click through some stuff, then maybe voting can be as easy as owning a beta fish.

Enter online resources that feature clear cut, clean packaging of political messages and information that increase the accessibility factor for those with a half-hearted interest in the 2015 election. While a lot of these youth-targeted resources are an onslaught of anti-Harper and strategic voting, some are taking the route of simplifying comprehension and comparison, putting only the necessary information in the hands of the voters and encouraging them to make autonomous, informed decisions. One fairly local and wildly successful example of this is the popular app and website, Pollenize.

“The reception has been overwhelmingly positive. A quarter of a million people will have used Pollenize. The average user spends over 11 minutes comparing party platforms. I'll admit that motivating the press to promote our tool has been difficult but the users who do come across the tool have find it useful for them.” says Miguel Barbosa, one of the creators and organizers of the online initiative.

The reactions to endeavours like Pollenize illustrate just how important they can be in engaging potential voters. “We find that people are utilizing all aspects of the tool. People are spending lots of time comparing platforms, favouriting the issue stances that are important to them as well as taking the time to reach out to us with their thanks”.

A few days ago, Vice Canada put forth an article which included several political campaign parody ads by Canadian visual graphics artist Nick DenBoer, who feels entirely justified in seizing this opportunity for a bit of satirical free speech: “It’s like they’re spoon feeding you this bullshit… and these have been playing non-stop, getting crammed in our ears, and everyone hates them. It’s like ‘Well fuck you, make something we can digest and respect instead of these ridiculous church ads.’” 

This is a sentiment being echoed by a satisfying amount of Canadians. While they may be a great conversation point, they’re somewhat ineffective. What is this board room crap? Who cares about Justin Trudeau’s hair? That doesn’t help me figure out what the Liberal Party’s platform is.

And this is exactly the notion that Pollenize and others have been tapping in to. “We think people don't dislike politics, they just don't like the way it's presented to them. Campaign websites are filled with political rhetoric and jargon. Personally I would find an intuitive website comparing the platforms to be useful. People want facts. This thought process led us to create Pollenize”.


“It's important to us that the tool is accessible on all platforms. Our goal is to get Pollenize in front of as many Canadians as possible. Having an app is a great story-point and some people may find using the app more to their liking”. An interface like what Pollenize has going on isn’t just made to look pretty and package things nicely, though¾ there’s a method to the madness, especially when that madness is trying to navigate a lot of content between numerous parties.

Pollenize follows a pretty standard quiz-like structure: here’s all the parties. Here’s their platform highlights. Star which ones you feel align with your priorities, and at the end we’ll add them up for your comparison. PS, here’s a slew of additional features that make it incredibly simple to compare what you’ve scored each party, a list of where we got this info from, and also more information, if you want it.

In congruence with the sentiment expressed by content creators and artists like DenBoer, and just about everyone who has had to suffer through these ridiculous hair advertisements, Miguel hits the nail on the head: “Parties love controlling their message. It's difficult even for a politically motivated person to compare the party platforms. They announce things as the election progresses and most of the parties didn't release their full platform in one document until the week before election day. It seems logical to have a centralized, intuitive place to organize their promises.”

Even for someone who does dabble in politics and doesn’t necessarily need a simplified version, the appeal of the organizational methods and ease when it comes to readability makes the overall experience more enjoyable, and it’s easy to find yourself perusing the site and taking advantage of the features.

“Trevor is a brilliant developer. He also created a fast-paced word game called Knoword. Both Knoword and Pollenize have very specific user experiences. There is information that needs to be presented and navigable in a clear way. The whole team spent a great deal of time brainstorming how to optimize the whole experience. Every click a user makes on a website has to be intuitive and fun. The user should be able to zip through the site quickly after one use. Seamless transition features really resonate with the user.”

If you want to become a self-fulfilling prophecy, then sure, by all means, continue to feed this mass assumption that no one under the age of twenty-five cares about the future of our country. But not all of us are going to tolerate being a speaking point for a bunch of people that use the term “millennial” unironically.

When it comes to “Youth Voter Apathy”, Miguel and other young people see right through the semantics of the popular term, recognizing the lack of concern that most political parties have for this demographic since we don’t fit their ‘power in numbers’ model: “I think the phrase is used like a shield or an excuse these days. Politicians and news organizations spend a lot of time breaking down youth voter apathy. I think if they created tools and messaging that is more up to the level of the apps we already use (Instagram, Twitter etc). it would have a massive impact in the youth demographic. I think thoughtful design plays a big role in solving the problem.”

‘But my choice doesn’t matter’ says some of the eighty two per cent of eligible voters that we may or may not be able to blame for our current party in office. “Well they all suck” say the people that are going to have to live under one of those parties, and may be the difference in which one.

From myself, and most other people I’ve observed who have just heard this statement uttered, we’re not sure you realize exactly how ridiculous you sound.

Go vote. Because if you sat down and read all the way through this article, and know about all these tools in place for you, then you have absolutely no excuse for not exercising your democratic right to be a part of a decision that could shape the future of your country.


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