Voter Turnout: A Case Study of Scarborough-Rouge River

By Lee, Derek; Powell, Ryan K. | Canadian Parliamentary Review, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

Voter Turnout: A Case Study of Scarborough-Rouge River


Lee, Derek, Powell, Ryan K., Canadian Parliamentary Review


In the 40th General Election on October 14, 2008, national voter turnout fell to an all-time low of 58.8% of registered electors. This was a decrease of 5.9 percentage points from the 39th General Election and consistent with the long-term trend. Likewise, voter turnout in the riding of Scarborough--Rouge River dropped to an unprecedented low of 47.5%, the lowest in Toronto and seventeenth lowest in the country. For the first time in the history of the riding more than 50 percent of registered electors did not vote. This paper discusses possible causes of poor voter turnout using Scarborough--Rouge River as a case study. A number of suggestions are put forth to explain the decline.

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The federal electoral district of Scarborough--Rouge River is an intriguing case given that it is the largest riding in population in the City of Toronto and has a growing list of registered electors Located in Toronto's east end north of Highway 401, the riding has its own unique characteristics among ridings in the country's large urban centres. The population is 89% visible minority, 68% immigrant, with a high youth-to-population ratio of 23.6%. It is on average younger than the national average and the South Asian and Chinese communities combined represent 61% of the total population.

The 2008 voter turnout percentage for Scarborough-Rouge River was compared to each of the voter turnouts in Toronto, in Ontario and Canada. In doing so, it was found that the riding's turnout was not only lower than each of the three jurisdictions. In fact, the riding ranked lowest among each of Toronto's 23 electoral districts, and 105th among Ontario's 106 electoral districts as well. Voter turnout in Scarborough-Rouge River has been below both national and city turnout in each of the last seven federal elections. The data indicates that as turnout continues to drop, the gap in percentage points relative to these jurisdictions continues to widen with each successive election. To determine which polling districts within the riding displayed lowest turnouts, a poll-by-poll analysis was performed to compare individual poll turnout to the overall turnout in Toronto.

Voter Participation among Youth Aged 18-24

Canada's youth electorate, (registered voters aged 18-24 years) appears to be voting less over recent years. That young people vote at lower percentage rates than their older counterparts has been a common finding of electoral participation research and been confirmed by recent studies. Moreover, this tendency appears to hold true for virtually all established democracies in which the issue has been studied. In a survey of an equal number of voters and non-voters, it was found that turnout in the 37th General Election was only 22.4% among youth aged 18-20 and 25% among youth aged 18-24 years. In comparison to voters aged 58 and older who voted at a robust 81.5% youth turnout was 36.2 percentage points below the national turnout percentage (61.2%) in 2000. Thus, in Canadian federal elections when comparing voters under age 25 and voters over age 65, there is a gap in voter turnout of 10 to 25 percentage points. (1)

Why is turnout decreasing among youth? Social scientists attribute declining voter turnout among youth to the life cycle theory whereby propensity to vote was found to increase as the youth age. In fact, young voters appear to be voting less, especially when compared to previous generational cohorts. The decline may stem from a decline in civic engagement among youth. Civic engagement in this context refers to voters that, "play an active role in the social and political life of their community. (2) Voters are more likely to participate in elections when they are politically engaged. In other words, citizens who are active in their communities will have an interest in the political process, be knowledgeable about it and are therefore more inclined to participate at elections. Perhaps it is pertinent to ascertain whether youth play an active role in the social and political life of the riding before enquiring whether they participated in the federal election of 2008. …

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