Voter Apathy Stems From Evolving Trends, Lack of Trust: Pundits

By Lee Harding
Lee Harding
Lee Harding
Lee Harding is a journalist and think tank researcher based in Saskatchewan, and a contributor to The Epoch Times.
September 15, 2021 Updated: September 20, 2021

With less than a week to go before election day, recent Ipsos survey results raise concerns over voter apathy and low voter turnout, showing that over 35 percent of Canadian voters don’t like any of the parties and that 13 percent are “completely undecided” as to which candidate they will vote for.

Hamish Telford, an associate professor of political science at the University of the Fraser Valley, says there’s “a variety of long-term trends” that leave voters less enthusiastic today compared to in the past.

“The fractionalization of the party system is representative to a certain extent of that dissatisfaction,” Telford told The Epoch Times.

“People don’t join parties like they used to, and so they don’t have the same membership that they used to. Members tend to be older—young people don’t join the parties at all.”

It may also be harder these days for voters who are disillusioned with the party they’ve traditionally supported to gravitate to another choice, he said.

“Now we tend to view people with different political opinions as evil and about to destroy the country. So there’s a change in perception and tone, rather than people moving further apart on ideas. And it’s funny—we are arguing over smaller policy differences, but we are further worlds apart.”

As for the leaders’ debates, Telford doubts they gave voters cause to become more engaged.

“The answers were shallow, and of course they were shallow because [the leaders] weren’t given enough time to expound on the answers,” he said.

“I have shown [the 1984 and 1988] debates to my students and they were incredulous. Like, ‘You guys actually watched that? Would anybody watch this?’ And you had at that time three very learned men standing on a stage for three hours expounding on policies.

“The culture since then wouldn’t allow for it. Political leaders aren’t trained to do that, and citizens aren’t trained to sit through that kind of exercise anymore.”

Wanda Krause, a political scientist and assistant professor at the School of Leadership Studies at Royal Roads University in B.C., believes the Liberals have disappointed some Canadians by their slow progress on some issues, such as clean drinking water for indigenous communities.

“Canadians really want to see change. They really want to see their issues put forward and taken seriously. But yet at the same time, some don’t know who else to vote for, so there’s a bit of disaffection there,” Krause said in an interview.

According to the Ipsos survey released Sept. 9, 30 percent of Canadians overall are unsure which party has the best plan for Canada’s post-COVID future, while the vast majority (78 percent) of undecided voters feel the same, “believing they’re all the same.”

In addition, the survey noted that undecided voters often end up being non-voters come election day, as they could be among the hardest to motivate.

“When they hear the different platforms of our potential leaders and current leader, they seem to be not as different as they were perhaps before. It’s, ‘Who am I going to vote for then if there’s not that big of a difference?’ And yet there’s so much going on in Canadians’ lives that they’re not giving that much time to reading about the different platforms either,” said Krause.

Malcolm Bird, a political scientist at the University of Winnipeg, believes one reason for voter discontent is that criticism has usurped respect for government in general, for reasons that may not be fair.

“I don’t think people really understand that being in government is not easy,” he said. “You have to make really hard choices. You’ve got limited resources, you’ve got everybody complaining, you’re under unbelievable time and information and external pressures.”

A lack of trust also plays a role, says Krause, noting that on some of the issues, voters may not be convinced that leaders running for election will keep their promises.

“What are leaders saying they’re going to do and is it convincing? Are there real solutions being put out, not just politically correct [ones] or lip service?” she says.

“Are they walking their talk? I think there is a bit of a crisis here, not in terms of caring or engagement, but rather in trust. Canadians are asking more, ‘Are leaders fulfilling their promises?’ Many Canadians are feeling that our leaders are not. And I’m not sure if Canadians also feel they’re being listened to.”

Lee Harding
Lee Harding
Lee Harding is a journalist and think tank researcher based in Saskatchewan, and a contributor to The Epoch Times.