The preliminary results of Canada’s federal election show a low voter turnout, prompting analysts to discuss the implications for the country’s democracy.
With 98 percent of polls reporting as of Tuesday morning, 15,993,868 out of 27,366,297 registered voters had cast ballots, for a turnout rate of 58.4 percent so far.
This is lower than the turnout in the 2019 federal election, which saw 18,350,359 out of 27,373,058 eligible voters cast ballots, for a 67 percent turnout. The turnout rates in the 2015 and 2011 elections were 68.3 percent and 61.1 percent, respectively.
Darrell Bricker, CEO of Ipsos Public Affairs, casts much of the blame on the low voter turnout on the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There are two things that lead to a decline in turnout. One of them is whether or not people feel the election is of consequence, and the second thing is whether or not the friction that’s associated with the voting process is a low or high,” he told Global News.
“I would say in this instance, there was not a lot of interest in this election … and second, voting was hard.”
On election day, there were reports of long lines in many parts of the country. Several were spotted in Toronto and the GTA, including one in Vaughan which showed people lining up alongside a highway off-ramp to vote. Ipsos polling data also showed a growing number of Canadians surveyed felt the campaign shouldn’t have been happening.
Bricker, whose company has done polling for Global News throughout the election, said a true test of Canada’s democracy will be during the next election.
“People were upset about the election, no doubt, but I expect that we would have seen similar results to what we saw in the last election in terms of turnout, like around the mid 60s, simply because the dynamics were very similar,” he said.
“This is unique, it’s not a statement about Canadian democracy because if you look at the last two elections, voter turnout was at a high for the century.”
For John Beebe, who leads the democratic engagement exchange in the faculty of arts at Ryerson University in Toronto, the turnout data is “not good news.”
“We’ve historically had really high trust in our democratic institutions, in our election process … and I think that the challenges that they faced in this election are going to take some time to rebuild confidence in our elections,” he said.
“I don’t put it on Elections Canada, but it is a reality that there were huge challenges to the administration of the election.”
He also attributes the drop in voter turnout to two factors. First, Beebe pointed to community organizations he’s worked with, saying they’ve struggled to engage new voters during the just-over-a-month-long pandemic election.
Second, Elections Canada did not allow students to vote on campus, according to Beebe, limiting young people’s voting options. With back-to-school season occurring in the same month, he believes that voting may not have been a top concern for some.
“I think their ability to reach out to new voters was really limited for these community-based groups, who were already stretched thin in terms of everything they were doing to response to the pandemic,” he said.
“I believe we are seeing the effects of that, and we must definitely invest more if we are to establish a more vibrant and healthy democracy, because we cannot go backward.”