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Pique n' your interest

Apathy now!



My generation, and the larger 18 to 35 demographic, has often been accused of being apathetic – "having or showing no emotion or interest," according to the Canadian Oxford Dictionary – especially around election time.

We are constantly reminded that democracy is a hard-earned privilege not a natural right – a muscle that has to be exercised regularly if we don’t want to lose it to atrophy. And if you don’t vote, then you can’t criticize.

In the November 2000 federal election, only one in four Canadians that turned 18 that year bothered to return their voter cards to Elections Canada, and a fraction of that number actually turned up at the polls.

Voter turnout is in decline in most democracies, and while younger people have always been less likely to vote, there is a growing sense that apathy is at its worst.

Drastic measures have been taken to get young people to the polls.

In Australia, you have to register at the age of 18 and vote in all federal elections, or face a fine of $50 each time.

In the U.S., MTV and various politicians have attempted to "Rock the Vote" to increase turnout. It didn’t work. The Green Party and Ralph Nader held huge rallies in the 2000 election with all-star line-ups like Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder that attracted huge turnouts, but despite strong polling before the election, those votes didn’t materialize on election day.

In Canada, only 61 per cent of registered voters turned out for the last election. The Liberal Party won a huge majority in Parliament with 5.3 million votes, while 8.2 million eligible voters sat at home and watched hockey.

To put those numbers into perspective, the CBC estimates that 10.6 million viewers tuned in to watch Canada take on the U.S. for the gold medal in Olympic hockey.

Some critics claim that the education system isn’t doing enough to teach Canadians about citizenship, and the importance of voting. Others are calling for an overhaul of the whole political system in Canada, with ideas for creating an elected senate and switching to proportional representation in the house – other experiences in proportional representation in New Zealand and elsewhere have resulted in higher voter interest.

One thing is for certain, and that is candidates will continue to target young people with their campaigns, and will continue to pay the price for being naïve enough to count on a bunch of slackers. Still, you can’t blame them for trying.

We are a huge demographic, with enough collective power to elect any candidate or part we chose to back. If every young person who was eligible voted, there would be a viable three-party system in the U.S. by now, and members of the Green Party would probably be in provincial legislatures and Parliament in Canada.

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