Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee
Intern Blog: Engagement: The Political Edition

As a young person, I am frequently surprised by the level of engagement (or lack thereof) exhibited by my peers. Many of them do not vote or even know who their local representatives are. For many of them, politics is something their parents care about and, a lot of the time, these students don’t even see how politics benefits them directly. As part of my internship at CJPAC, I have been encouraged to find ways to engage students both on my campus and in my community.

To further explore my views regarding my peers’ dis-engagement, I turned to a 2007 study by the Canada Policy Research Network, ‘Indifferent or Just Different? The Political and Civic Engagement of Young People in Canada’.

The article analyzes the level of engagement exhibited by young people of voting age in Canada and points out that people my age are more likely to volunteer in their communities but less likely to vote than members of older generations. An example given by the Star is of a young woman who votes, but considers the act to be an abstract process that doesn’t make an active difference in her life. Instead she volunteers at a soup kitchen, which she finds much more fulfilling (Smith, 2009). The numbers also back up my anecdotal evidence. In the 2004 federal election, it is believed that only 37% of young voters actually voted (O’Neill, 2007), making “the turnout gap between the youngest and oldest voters […] a startling 32 percentage points.” (O’Neill, 2007).

So, what can be done to encourage young people to get out and vote? I find that communicating to my classmates that, without their voices, people our age are not heard and issues that are important to us get left behind has had the most impact. It has been reported that, in some cases, younger people are more interested in environmental and human rights issues, while issues related to health care and pension funding feel more relevant to the baby-boomer generation (O’Neill, 2007), young people need to begin to be active so their issues are viewed as priorities.

Personally, I’ve developed elevator pitches to use when talking to young people at volunteering events I attend. Having attended classes at Humber’s North Campus, I find that college students are often ignored by events trying to engage students, as most of the attention is focused on university students. With colleges beginning to offer degrees, and with college education becoming a more popular choice for young people who want alternative post-secondary education, it is becoming more and more important for politicians and institutions to reach out to college students.

Indifferent or Just Different? also discusses the way that the younger generation follows the news. Younger generations are more likely to cite the internet as a news source and less likely to read the newspaper or watch TV. I personally don’t have cable, nor do most of my friends, but I usually use the internet to stayed tuned in to what is going on in the world. I also find that many of my peers use Twitter and Facebook to learn about what is important to them, so I think it is great that so many Canadian politicians now have Facebook pages and Twitter accounts they update frequently, and I would encourage ones who don’t to create them.

As the younger generation gets older, it will be interesting to see how active we become in the political process.  CJPAC has many amazing programs for young people who are interested in getting involved and provides excellent opportunities to be a part of something bigger than yourself and is a great place to start getting involved.  I certainly hope to see more student engagement in the years to come!

Until next time!