Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 1/10/2016 (1687 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
In the October 2015 federal election, there was a dramatic election result with a change in government. Across the country, and here in Manitoba, there was also a dramatic increase in turnout. The nearly two-decade-long narrative of declining voter turnouts especially among younger voters was decisively rewritten.
The stage seemed set for an equivalent development in the provincial election. While there was a dramatic result with a change in government, there was a much lower turnout than in the federal election. The turnout was up only marginally from 2011. The obvious question is what happened to all those voters, and what are the implications for Manitoba politics?
The significance of the federal election turnout cannot be understated. Here in Manitoba, 68.8 per cent voted, up from 55.7 per cent in 2011.
The participation of young and indigenous voters in Manitoba was key, federally. Youth turnout rose to 57.5 per cent per cent in 2015 from 31.9 per cent in 2011. The on-reserve First Nations turnout went from 36 per cent in 2011 to 57.5 per cent in 2015. The biggest increase in turnout was in the Churchill—Keewatinook Aski riding, which rose to 61.58 per cent in 2016 from 41.35 per cent in 2011. Not coincidentally, it has a large young and indigenous population.
There was a very different story provincially. Turnout increased, but only to 57.77 per cent in 2016 from 55.47 per cent in 2011. In the north, turnout was as little as 24.3 per cent in Keewatinook. Provincially, an increasing number of former voters chose not to vote, and new potential voters chose to stay at home.
If you factor out the differing voter eligibility (you have to be a resident of Manitoba six months to vote provincially but not federally) as many as 70,000 people voted in the federal but not the provincial election. The number of stay-at-home voters is even clearer over time.
In 2016, there were 40,000 more potential voters but 62,000 fewer votes cast than in 1995. Despite their landslide victory, the PCs only received 16,000 more votes than they did the last time they formed government in 1995.
The Liberals were down 60,000 votes from 1995, their best showing in the past two decades. The biggest drop was with the NDP. Down 43,000 since the 1995 election and down 107,000 since its peak in 1999.
Some of the difference can be attributed to factors specific to the 2015 federal and 2016 provincial election, but there is clearly something more involved.
Having volunteered in the federal and run in the provincial election, I can say from personal experience that there were two kinds of stay-at-home voters. First, the new voters in the federal election — young and indigenous — stayed at home in the provincial. Second, people who have voted in the past — perhaps Liberal, more likely NDP — chose not to vote.
So what is the key to motivating people to vote? Any analysis of the federal election points to a progressive agenda as being key to young and indigenous voters who are more progressive than voters generally.
There is another key as well that impacts not only young voters but older as well. As Canada has seen growing inequality, more and more Canadians are seeing the middle-class dream slip away. The increasing number of people identifying as poor and working-class and the growing number of middle-class Canadians who are slipping economically is creating a group of voters who want significant political change that is relevant to them and their stressed and even precarious economic reality.
There is a challenge but also an opportunity for the NDP in particular to connect with the disaffected as well as new potential voters.
Time will tell whether the federal or provincial results in Manitoba are the new normal. The key to future Manitoba politics may well be persuading the stay-at-home voter there is real choice in elections that is relevant to them.
Steve Ashton is a former NDP MLA and cabinet minister.