27 August 2013

Getting out the Vote #nlpoli

Older people are more likely to vote.

In the 2011 federal election, about 50% of the eligible voters aged 18 to 24 years actually voted.  That compares to 25 to 34s turned out at about the same rate.  People in the 35 to 44 bracket turned out at around the national average of 61%.

Compare that to 70% turn-out for 45- to 54-year-olds and 82% among eligible voters aged 65 to 74, according to figures from Statistics Canada.

Other factors influenced turn-out as well.

Seventy-eight percent of people with university degrees voted in 2011.  That compares to 60% of people with high school diplomas or lesser levels of formal education. 

Employed people were more likely to vote than the unemployed.  Recent immigrants were less likely to vote than those more established in the community.  Parents in younger families are less likely to vote given work and family pressures than people in older families with more flexibility in their schedules.  Think about it for a second.  30-somethings are run ragged with toddlers and work.  Not thinking much about voting any time are they?

What Statistics Canada found in 2011 is generally consistent with research in the United States and Canada in recent decades on voter turn-out. It’s also consistent with what municipal candidates are finding at the doorstep.  Here’s a quote from a CBC story on Monday night in which some candidates would like to see elections held later in the year because no one is paying attention at the moment.  Notice, though, the examples that Ward 2 candidate Jonathan Galgay uses to illustrate his point:

He agrees people aren't paying attention to municipal politics right now.

"Families, especially those with young children and those just returning from holidays, they are focused on their families in September," Galgay said.

The Telegram ran a tidy little story on Monday’s front page about motivating young voters in the municipal election .  With declining turnout in elections general, though,  the challenge is not just about motivating young voters in particular, but in motivating voters across the population. At the provincial level, we’ve seen a steady decline in turn over the last two provincial elections. 

That’s a point noted, incidentally, in another CPSA paper from 2010.  Jared Welsey described declining turnout across the country and made particular reference in the introduction:

When the ballots were counted on October 9, the PCs had collected 69.6 percent of the popular vote – the highest figure recorded in any provincial or federal election in the past century.

A second, common storyline accompanied the results of these two elections, however. In Newfoundland and Labrador, fewer than two in three eligible voters turned out to vote. While average by recent Canadian standards, at a rate of 61.3 percent, this marked the province’s lowest level of voter participation in forty-five years (and the second-lowest since it entered Confederation).

What you can’t ignore in the past two provincial elections is the role that competition plays in participation.  Elections between candidates or parties that are well-funded and organized will tend to produce higher turn-outs than elections  - like 2007 and 2011 – where only one party, in effect,  was up to the contest.

In a slightly different context, though, no one should be surprised if word starts leaking out of Liberal circles that some early strategies aren’t working out as originally hoped. Some people may well have imagined that winning the nomination was a matter of signing up the most “instant-Liberals”.  It’s a hold-over from the days when people thought you could do that sort of thing to win a district nomination.

And those same people might have been convinced by the sort of commentary that suggested that elections can be won by bringing in lots of new voters.  That’s a common view of Obama’s first election, but it isn’t real.  Obama won with a campaign that targeted lots of people. The core were Democrat voters, not non-voters who suddenly shifted and decided to join the throng.  Obama mobilised voters both in 2008 and 2012.

So what does that mean for the Liberal leadership race?  Well, it’s pretty much what SRBP said a couple of months ago

The next challenge will be finding voters. Really optimistic – or really naive – people will imagine that the potential voter population with the new Liberal campaign rules is the entire voting population of the province.  That’s about 350,000 people.

Guess again.  Only about 42,000 actually voted for the Liberals in the last provincial election.  In 2007,  that number was about 45,000.  These are hard core Liberals.  But how many of even those hard core do you suppose would be willing to become members or identified supporters of the Liberal Party?  Even if you assumed all of them would, you’d have a big number to sift through with your handful of volunteers.

Yeah, well, all that travelling around is gaining the candidates lots of miles on the car and a few more frequent flyer miles.  But if the rumblings coming your humble e-scribbler’s way this past weekend are any indication, some campaigns are not getting as many signed-up voters as they likely thought. 

The rumblings fit, by the way, with a news release issued last week by one of the campaigns that trumpeted the endorsements the candidate was getting.  None of them were actually new so it looked like an effort to gild the lily a bit.  Just to make sure no one thinks that’s a problem for one campaign more than another, just remember that none of the campaigns have been able to make any real news since the first week with a landmark endorsement of any kind from anyone.

Motivating voters is the name of the game.  There are lots of ways to do it, but understand:  it’s never as easy as some people would have you believe.