In fact, they are! “Evidence suggests the same types of youth that democratically engaged in the offline world take advantage of online opportunities for democratic activity.” – Library of Parliament, Youth and Democracy: A Dialogue Session.
If you pay attention to the popular media or listen to comments around the water cooler, you would have to believe that Canadian youth are completely disengaged from politics and from participation in the democratic process.
Evidence from Statistics Canada, however, does not bear this out. According to the latest census the proportion of 18 to 24 years olds who voted in the last federal election was 55.9%, a very healthy percentage of young voter, who at that age are generally totally immersed in school or career-building and in just finding out who they are personally.
The proportion of the population aged 25 to 54 that voted in the last election jumped to 75.8% and even higher – 89.4% for those who are 55-plus. The jump between both categories is not surprising; as we get older our priorities shift and we know more based on both experience and continuous learning.
As for political engagement, if asked I would have estimated that only about 2% engage actively by joining a political party or volunteering in an election. However, once again the numbers are surprising.
Statistics Canada reports that 5.9% of people over 15 are politically involved and 3.6% of youth, 15 to 24, said that they were involved with a political party or group. Nearing retirement, at 55-plus, participation jumped to 8.6%.
So what does all this mean? The young people of today are probably no different than the young people of yesterday, with one interesting change; they now have the tools to be even more active and they use these tools. Twitter offers a gargantuan opportunity to engage in all kinds of political activity and we have seen it used this way in the Arab Spring, the Occupy movement and the more recent Idle No More. Come to think of it, the participants in all these movements were on the younger side.
While younger people now have an outlet for political engagement that was never available in the past, that may not translate into a stronger knowledge of the Canadian democratic process. Ignorance is the hallmark of most political reporters these days, but who can wonder, given that they went through the Canadian school system where even classroom elections are based on the republican model of voting for a president. Many teachers are uninformed about how Parliament really works or even how it should work, so myths and stereotypical attitudes are passed on with little regard for the facts. After all, “everyone says something so it must be true” is the political school for many.
But the Internet is helping to close this knowledge gap. According to Stats Can, 51.4% of adults over 18 used the Internet to research political views. This will only grow and, along the way, so will the understanding of how our democratic system works.
We should feel optimistic about our democratic future.