Voter Turnout in Canada and Denmark

By Nasrallah, Jessica | Canadian Parliamentary Review, Summer 2009 | Go to article overview

Voter Turnout in Canada and Denmark


Nasrallah, Jessica, Canadian Parliamentary Review


The recent decline in voter turnout for Canadian federal elections is a cause for concern. In the 1993 election, voter turnout fell to 70 percent from 75 percent at the previous election. This fell to 67 percent in 1997 and then again to 61 percent in 2000. The 2008 election held on October 14th was the lowest in Canadian history at 59.1 percent. This article compares Canadian turnout with that of another democracy, Denmark.

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In Denmark, where the voting age is the same as Canada, turnout is usually high, with an average of 85 percent. Since the 1950s the lowest voter turnout was in 1990 with 82.8 percent, still a very impressive number. In the 2007 election, voter turnout was 86.6 percent, a rise from the 2005 election of 84.4 percent. Clearly, the people of Denmark feel differently than Canadians when it comes to voting. If we can figure out why perhaps we can fix Canada's declining turnout.

Youth and Education Issues

In recent elections, young Canadians have been participating at low levels. In the 2004 Federal Election, the turnout among those aged 18 to 29 was 15 points lower. Mark Franklin explains:

   Many of them are not in a position to have yet
   acquired the necessary social linkages, nor have
   they been adult long enough to have yet been
   mobilized by those who will attempt to enmesh
   them in such networks. (1)

Evidently, when young people feel a lack of civic duty they will resist voting during elections. Young Canadians generally feel they are not integrating into the political system. They adopt basic attitudes of voter apathy; political distrust and a lack of information. This shows the need for increased political education because better politically educated citizens are more likely to be open to new impressions and utilizing information to form personal opinions.

Young voters simply do not have enough education to make informed decisions relating to all aspects of electoral politics. A study on voter turnout in Electoral Insight, published by Elections Canada, reported that:

   during the final ten days of the 2004 election
   campaign, 40 percent of those in the 18-29 age
   group were not able to identify Paul Martin as
   the Liberal leadership candidate, 53 percent
   couldn't name the Conservative leader and 66
   percent couldn't name the NDP leader. (2)

Clearly, there is a significant level of unawareness among young Canadian voters. After all, 83 percent of Canadians feel that schools should be doing more to educate students about the benefits of voting and political participation. When Jon Pammett and Lawrence LeDuc investigated this topic for Elections-Canada, they found that:

   This image of uncaring youth is sometimes
   accompanied by a more purposeful description
   of youth as being actively negative toward
   politics or elections. Some of the respondents
   said young people were less likely to vote
   because they were cynical or disillusioned about
   politics, sick of the "false promises, dishonesty,
   hypocrisy, corruption and negativity" which
   supposedly characterize political life, and
   not willing to participate in a "meaningless"
   activity. (3)

The negative feelings that young Canadians have regarding elections is damaging voter turnout.

Individual mobilization deals with the attitudes of individuals that provide incentives to vote. Political mobilization refers to social integration and civic duty, a feeling of obligation and responsibility to be politically active. It has already been stated above that Canadians fail to have a sense of mobilization especially in young voters. Denmark does not seem to struggle with this to the same extent.

Political scientists, Jorgen Elklit, Palle Svensson and Lise Togeby, from the University of Aarhus, in Denmark have said, "Part of the explanation of the stable turnout in Denmark is, thus, that new generations have been mobilized as well as former generations. …

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