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Cablegate: Young Voters Have Potential to Influence Election

DE RUEHOT #1091/01 2272006
P 142006Z AUG 08




E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (SBU) Summary: Conventional wisdom in Canada suggests that young
voters are apathetic. Indeed, official data show youth
participation rates in federal elections have declined since 1993.
However, mission conversations with politically-active young
Canadians suggest that many of them are politically savvy and
willing to engage, although they seem to favor social protests and
events organized through the internet as their primary means of
political expression. Youth policy priorities do not necessarily
track with those of older generations either. The recent upsurge of
interest among young American voters in Barack Obama's campaign
might also have a ripple effect in Canada, according to our
contacts. These generational differences could bring crucial
support in the prospective fall 2008 federal election for the party
that can best tap into issues that interest young people and engage
them in their preferred media. End summary.

The Disappearing Young Voter

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2. (U) In all Western democracies the turnout rate for young voters
has declined significantly in recent years, and Canada is no
exception. Only 38 percent of 18-24 year olds voted in the 2004
federal election. A 2007 report by the non-partisan Canadian Policy
Research Networks (CPRN) said that young Canadians are not only less
likely to vote, but also are less likely to be interested in
conventional politics or to be members of political parties and
interest groups. Young Canadians are more likely to engage in
political demonstrations and to be involved with a group or
organization, said report author Brenda O'Neill. When measuring
non-traditional political activity, such as political protest and
demonstrations, young people participated at a level equal to or
higher than every other age category, according to O'Neill.

Clashing Values and Neglect Deflate Youth Turnout
--------------------------------------------- ----

3. (U) Some factors for the decline in traditional civic
participation among youth include a deficiency of political
knowledge, a perceived lack of competition between political
parties, a misunderstanding of the importance of parties, and a
belief that traditional politics are not an effective conduit to
political change, according to a study by Elections Canada.
Researchers also cite increasing individualism and social isolation
due to more advanced technology as a catalyst for the changing
nature of political participation and civic engagement. Politicians
tend also to focus their energy to engage baby boomers, who do vote
more often than young people. Not surprisingly, groups that get the
most attention from politicians tend to have an increased voter
turnout, according to an Elections Canada study.

4. (U) Researchers report that another reason for the declining
young voter turnout rate is that young Canadians hold different
values than older voters. Since politicians tend to focus on the
priorities of older voters, young people believe their political
leaders ignore their interests, according to a 2007 CPRN report by
Andre Turcotte. The environment, education, and health care are the
areas most important to Canadian youth. They care less about
defense and economic issues, according to a 2007 CPRN poll.
Candidates who are seeking the support of young voters are using new
campaign methods that are perceived as youth-friendly, including
blogs, text-messaging, and interactive websites. The Liberal and
Conservative parties both use these methods, but interact with their
younger counterparts differently. Liberals devote a significant
Qyounger counterparts differently. Liberals devote a significant
portion of time and money to their youth organizations, providing
them with dedicated channels for input on policy development. The
Conservatives connect to their youth wings by providing Party news
and campaign ideas to their university and riding clubs. They do
invite young Conservatives to their party conventions. However, the
Tories maintain their dominant focus on issues that appeal to older
generations such as security and the economy.

Liberals Attract Youth

5. (U) The Liberal Party has reached out to young Canadians by
forming a youth commission for citizens under the age of 26, called
the Young Liberals of Canada (YLC). YLC is divided into provincial
organizations and riding associations within each province. Their
membership has ranged in recent years from 60,000 to 80,000. For
biennial Liberal Party Conventions up to four Young Liberals in each
electoral district can join the delegation. The Liberal Party has a
blog, podcasts, and online videos (coined "Liberal TV). MPs and
high ranking Liberals have made efforts to engage youth by hosting
events such as beach parties and making appearances at concerts
hosted by Young Liberals clubs.

6. (U) In addition to support for the larger party, Young Liberals

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of Canada has its own policy objectives such as relieving poverty in
Africa, fighting climate change, protecting Canadian sex workers,
improving post-secondary education, protecting civil liberties, and
promoting same-sex marriage rights. In particular, the Young
Liberals campaigned hard to make same-sex marriage rights part of
the Liberal platform during the 2006 party plenary.

Tories Focused on Older Voters

7. (U) The Conservatives voted to eliminate their federal youth
wing in 2004 when the Progressive Conservative Party and Canadian
Alliance merged to form the Conservative Party of Canada. CPC
Energy, an unofficial conservative youth organization, is present
forty universities. They also offer summer parliamentary
internships for college students. At the provincial level, the
Ontario PC Association is the governing executive which divides into
riding clubs similar in organization to the Ontario Young Liberals.
The Conservative Party seeks to garner support from young people by
using cell phone texting, e-cards, podcasts, email and blogs to
circulate Conservative news and policies. The Tories require that
at least one of the twelve persons in each electoral district
delegation be 23 years old or younger.

8. (U) Major issues for youth members of CPC Energy are a free
economic markets, environmental protection, and lower taxes to
stimulate the economy. However, while young Conservatives tend to
support policies fighting climate change, they oppose the Liberal's
Green Shift carbon tax plan proposed by Liberal leader Stephane
Dion. The absence of a federal youth wing of the party could have
political ramifications in future elections if Conservative youth
feel marginalized, according to a 2008 analysis by the non-partisan
youth organization "Apathy is Boring". The Liberal Party stands to
win more of the youth vote due to its proactive inclusion of young
Canadians, according to the report.

9. (SBU) In conversations with young Canadian political activists,
it is clear that young people from both parties are responsive to
MPs contacting them and engaging them in the political sphere.
Katie Jellett, the Provincial President of the Ottawa-Orleans Young
Liberals Club, told the political section intern that Liberal MPs
support fundraisers and rallies organized by young Liberals. Jellett
added that her Young Liberal peers travelled to Detroit to campaign
for Barack Obama, indicating, she said, that some of Senator Obama's
popularity with young Americans has spread to Canada and encouraged
increased youth activity in Canda. She also said Justin Trudeau,
son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, may be the kind of
candidate in the next few years who compares to Obama in appealing
to youth.

Education and Engagement Are Keys to Higher Turnout
--------------------------------------------- ------

10. (SBU) Extensive and increased school-based civic education is
the key to increased youth political participation, according to
Elections Canada and CPRN researchers. However, young people are
also organizing themselves to promote the youth vote. The
non-partisan Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO)
promotes political participation by young voters in local and
national politics in the capital region. SFUO Campaign Coordinator
Michael Cheevers said his organization does extensive
"get-out-the-vote" operations during election seasons. He said the
popular "Rock the Vote" campaign in association with the young
Conservatives club and the Young Liberals uses rock concerts to
encourage students to vote. The fringes of the concert hall are
Qencourage students to vote. The fringes of the concert hall are
lined with booths to disseminate information about the parties and
issues, encouraging students to register and become informed voters.

11. (SBU) Comment: While the youth turnout rate is much lower than
that of older voters, young people are not politically indifferent.
As in much of the rest of the developed world, young Canadians care
about different issues than older generations. Youth organizations
such as "Apathy is Boring" and "Student Vote Canada" show that young
people do tend to organize themselves but do so differently than
older citizens, with more emphasis on internet-based forms of
communication and mobilization through protests and demonstrations.
In a close election, an energized youth vote might tip the balance
for the party that is best able to tap into the ambitions and
desires of the new generation of citizens.


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