Youth engagement in politics an uphill battle

With the provincial election coming up in October, political parties and professors alike are hoping to get more young people engaged in the political process.

Jared Wesley, a political science professor at the University of Manitoba, has played a leading role in convening a series of academic lectures and public events entitled “U2011,” which seek to raise the level of awareness and knowledge about elections.

In addition, Wesley, with the help of student volunteers, has recently initiated a “Vote Anyway” Facebook page, which includes information on voting as well as a public service announcement competition.

“We thought that social media would allow us to reach one of the least engaged elements of the population, which are the youth,” he said.

Wesley said the campaign seeks to encourage youth to vote despite the cynicism surrounding elections and youth participation.

According to Wesley, low expectations translate into youth being less likely to be approached by political parties, including both national and local organizations.
“Most of the campaigns today are all about mobilizing existing partisan people; they are not about persuading new voters — and youth, by default, fall into that last category,” he said.

David Shorr, director of communications for the Manitoba Liberals, said he believes that reaching out to the youth is an important part of increasing support for your party during an election.

“I can say that Manitoba Liberals have been working really hard to expand our outreach so young people who are having their first interaction with the political process have the opportunity to be included,” he said.

Shorr believes part of the reason for disengaged youth is the fact that the political process has become less about issues and more about personality attacks.

“We want to be having a discussion about issues that are important to young Manitobans and less about schoolyard bully tactics. [ . . . ] Young people don’t care about the drama that’s going on between political leaders,” he said.

The party will address the issue of safety in residences at the University of Manitoba, will make sure that any tuition increases are in line with inflation rates and ensure post-secondary institutions are leaders in the academic field, according to Shorr.

Progressive Conservative education critic Mavis Taillieu said one of the most important ways to attract young people is to discuss issues that youth are directly engaged in.

Taillieu said that the student issues the party is aware are most pertinent to students include tuition fees, bus passes, affordable housing and job security. She said she thinks the government should tackle these issues by providing a solid economic engine through small businesses, entrepreneurship and the ability for businesses to rise.

“Investing in the private sector is absolutely necessary to sustain economic stability within the province; it’s not good enough to just add the public sector, that’s just not sustainable,” she said.

Nanci Morrison, provincial secretary for the NDP, also said that the party should strive to engage all people in the electoral process.

“But especially young people,” she continued. “The youth wing of the party, the Manitoba Young New Democrats (MYND), is looking at ways to try to engage young people in the political process in general,” she said.

According to Morrison, the MYND are looking to expand their base across campus communities as well as making special trips to engage students in northern Manitoba.

Thisaru Nilmalgoda, a fourth-year science student at the U of M, said she plans on voting and thinks it is important for all students to do the same.
“There are so many of us; our vote is important and it can be enough to sway the outcome,” she said.