The Next Canada: Study by Abacus Data on Young Canadians

Canada’s New Electoral Powerhouse?

Would you believe me if I told you that young Canadians likely had a major impact on the outcome of the 2015 Canadian general election?

Probably not. That’s because we have continually heard over and over that young people are politically disengaged. Few pay attention to politics. Few vote. And there is plenty of evidence that supports these claims. Elections Canada estimates that during the 2011 federal election, only 39% of Canadians aged 18 to 24 showed up at the polls. In 2008, it was 37%, down from 44% two years earlier.

But the 2015 Canadian election may have been the start of a political awakening of a new electoral powerhouse in Canada.

Early indications suggest that turnout increased upwards of 12 percentage points among the youngest cohort of potential voters, and young voters coalesced around one political party and leader unlike in the past decade. So much so that one could credit young voters with giving the Liberal Party its majority government.

This study, commissioned by the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA), reports on a range of data sources, including a recent survey of 1,000 Canadians aged 18 to 25 years old. In it, the report explores the recent history of youth engagement in Canadian politics, and reveals findings that indicate that young Canadians voted in greater numbers than in the past, with important consequences.


This study also explores how young Canadians feel about the new government less than four months after the election, and what priorities they want the Trudeau government to focus on.

It finds that:

  • Voter turnout among 18 to 25 year-olds likely increased by about 12 points in 2015. Evidence indicates that most of the increase in turnout 3 during the 2015 federal election was the result of Canadians under 45 years old coming out in much higher numbers.
  • The Liberal Party of Canada won the youth vote in 2015. 45% of young Canadians (aged 18 to 25) voted Liberal compared with 25% for the NDP and 20% for the Conservative Party.
  • The NDP lost 43% of its 2011 vote to the Liberals. 43% of those who voted NDP in 2011 voted Liberal in the 2015 election, and 29% of past Conservative voters switched to the red team this time.
  • 57% of young Canadians approve of the job performance of the federal government. A plurality of young Canadians think the country is headed in the right direction and that young Canadians think the government should focus its attention on creating better job opportunities for young Canadians, make college and university more affordable and accessible, grow the economy, improve Canada’s healthcare system, and make housing more affordable.

The survey of young Canadians also finds that:

  • Support for the Liberals has held since October 2015. In February 2016, 46% of young Canadians would have voted Liberal if an election was held at the time of the survey. The Conservative Party and NDP would have won 19% of the youth vote respectively.
  • The Liberal Party has the largest pool of potential voters. The Conservatives are behind the Green Party. Seven in ten young Canadians would consider voting Liberal, 12 points higher than the NDP, and 33 points higher than the Conservative Party.
  • Prime Minister Trudeau is viewed positively by 60% of young Canadians, and he’s a political leader that 66% of young people say they can relate to.

But the report does not just focus on politics. It also includes data on the state of mind of young Canadians and the barriers they face finding meaningful employment. While eternally optimistic, young Canadians are also realists and aware of the difficult job market they are facing. The rising costs of food, housing, education, and precarious work options is shaking their faith in what’s possible. They have high expectations that the new government in Ottawa will make their lives better.

The report finds that:

  • Large majorities of young Canadians are being negatively impacted by rising food prices, unaffordable housing, and the cost of PSE.
  • A majority of current post-secondary students are worried about the amount of student debt they will graduate with, about the number of jobs opportunities waiting for them when they graduate, and their ability to save enough to buy a home within five years of graduation.
  • The top ranked barrier to finding a job for young Canadians is not having the experience employers are looking for.
  • 75% support an increase in grants to low and middle income students

The 18 to 25 year-olds we surveyed and highlight in this report are part of Canada’s Millennial generation; the largest cohort of Canadians, and soon to be the majority of Canada’s workforce.

In the past, their political voice has been muted by their lack of engagement and participation.

But the 2015 election was different. Hundreds of thousands of new voters cast ballots on October 19, most of whom were young and had never voted before.

And among those aged 18 to 25, almost half of them voted for a political leader they felt understood them and their issues, could inspire them to get involved, and most importantly, a leader they could relate to, who spoke to them on their terms, and where they were.

While they still punch below their weight electorally, young Canadians represent a powerful new political force that will continue to shape the future of Canadian politics for the next three decades, much like their parents’ generation, the Baby Boomers, did for the previous three.

Policy makers, politicians, and other community and business leaders who fail to listen and engage with this new force will be left behind as the NEXT CANADA emerges.