Who Benefits From Low Voter Turnout?

Right now people in other parts of the world are laying their lives on the line in the fight to bring democracy to their country in the hope they might one day cast a ballot in a free and fair election.

In Canada, increasing numbers of us aren’t voting.

Politics are boring. I don’t like any of the leaders. Nothing is going to change. My vote doesn’t really count, anyway.

The excuses Canadians give for not voting are many but evidence suggests one party in particular benefits from it—the Conservatives.

Only 58% of Canadians voted in the last federal election, a historic low. Conservative attack ads against then-Liberal leader Stephan Dion were key in turning many voters off. An Angus Reid poll found 11% of Canadians were dissuaded from voting as a result of those ads. The Conservatives got 37% of the popular vote in the last election. The Liberals got 26%. 

Things aren’t looking good for voter participation in this election, either. A recent Ipsos Reid poll found that only 57% of Canadian adults are “certain” to vote this time around.

Conservative Party supporters are more committed and more likely to vote than those of the Liberals or NDP. The recent by-election in the “905” riding of Vaughan show how the Conservatives can benefit from low voter turnout. Analysis by the Rideau Institute’s Jim Thompson shows “voter turnout was down by about one-third in the by-election compared to the general election in 2008. The Liberal vote fell by about the same percentage. But the Conservatives were able to turn out almost the exact same number of votes during both contests.”



  By-election 2008
Turnout 32.5% 52%
Conservative 19,290 19,390
Liberal 18,326 27,773
NDP 661 5,442


Voter turnout is especially low amongst youth, only 37% of 18-24 year-olds voted in the 2008 election. Too bad they don’t realize Parliament would look very different if they showed up to vote in similar proportions to the rest of the population.

I can understand why so many Canadians feel disinclined to vote—our electoral system is far from perfect—but turning our backs isn’t the answer to the problem, it will only make things worse. A healthy and vibrant democracy depends on the participation of a broad range of its citizens: that’s us. All of us.

Our vote is our voice. Let’s make ourselves heard, loud and clear.

Kerri-Anne Finn is the CCPA’s Senior Communications Officer.


  1. The system is flawed and until it is altered so that our vote REALLY COUNTS, lower voter turnout is what you will get. For instance, at present we use first past the post, Proportional Representation suits the needs of all Canadians, not just those concentrated in a central area, such as we have now. The seats are concentrated in Ontario and Quebec. I am sorry but what does that do for me in Saskatchewan????
    We need a PM that understands how a democracy works. What we have now is an AUTOCRAT

  2. How about a “Get Out the Vote” campaign like the one they had in the U.S.? I heard about it on The Young Turks when they were endorsing their version as “Turk-Out-the-Vote”. People volunteer to call people living in other areas to encourage them to go and vote if they support your preferred candidate.

  3. Fine non-voters … enter everyone who votes in a lottery to win a prize

    And most importantly, fix the electoral system to be truly representative and fair

  4. Yea i totally agree with fining people who do not vote…it works in many other countries including Australia. Everyone argues that its our right to vote or not but in australia you just have to show up and if you wish not to vote for anyone you can turn in a blank ballot. It would encourage people to become more informed and they would be more likely to vote since they have to show up anyway…

  5. Canadians should not be paid or fined to vote in a federal election. As a democracy, it is your right to vote, thats the whole point, you’re already getting something, and you can choose to throw that something away if you want to. Jeanne, how would it be fair if the people of Saskatchewan, just about a million people, had as equal a say as the 11 million people of Ontario or 7.5 million people in Quebec with regards to how the entire country is run? This is a federal election, and while I agree that the system is not perfect, population dense areas should count for more than areas that have much less people, this is why we also have provincial elections. The key is that every vote counts as equally as it possibly can (or so they are trying), you say your vote doesn’t count, but would it be fair if 1 million had just as much say as 11 million people in our country with regards to an election that concerns us all? I think not. During this election it is the amount of seats that are won across the entire country that truly matter, and thus we shouldn’t even consider provincial divisions as a factor as far as I’m concerned. The key is to get out and vote, its your right, nobody can take that away from you, and its something we should all be proud to have.

  6. I totally agree that if all the voters used their right to vote we would have a different story. Everybody complains about everything that they don’t like in the previous Government but when time comes to actually do something about it. What do they do? Absolutely nothing! Why? Because they are lucky enough to live in Canada and have the power to make the difference. Try being in one of the third world countries with no democratic rights and see how you like it. Probably that’s what all you pessimistic non-voters need.

  7. You want more votes, heres what you need to introduce:
    1) More accountabilty of party’s promises
    2) Repurcussions of non delivery
    3) A national priority list that accounts for 60% of parliament agenda
    4) Any election before term should cost all parties the cost of elections
    5) An independant oversight group

  8. As someone who studied political science formally, it is my firm belief that the Canadian electoral and political systems benefit political parties and politicians first and foremost with an after thought to constituents should your MP be on the ‘winning team’.

    The major flaw is that politicians are loyal to their party and leader and not the electorate.

    Secondly, as a brief study of electoral systems indicates, former colonies such as Canada are burdened with the electoral system of the former colonizer, in our case Great Britain. Canada needs an electoral system that pertains to a sparse population spread out over vast distances with more than two political parties (However, my preference would be to outlaw political parties on pain of death), not one designed for two parties, a large population on a condensed land mass such as Britain.

    Thirdly as for my riding, we have a do-nothing Conservative incumbent, an untried NDP candidate, and an untried Liberal candidate. All of whom pay lip service to the boomers and elderly with none or very little indication that there is an electorate under the age of 45.

    I’m asked to vote for a candidate that will show no loyalty to me as a voter in my riding because they are loyal to their party and/or leader, does not address any real issues that matter to me because I’m not a boomer or elderly, and has done nothing to earn my sacred vote.

    At the end of the day regardless of who does or doesn’t vote there will be a Prime Minister. If the majority of the population did not support the government by withholding their vote then how could the government be legitimate? The responsibility should be on the system to meet the needs of the people. The people should not be expected to support something that doesn’t work.

  9. If Canadians don’t want to vote because it’s boring, they should check out this article http://pepperpot.ca/society-and-politics/canada-elections-10-ways-to-get-your-vote-on/. My friends and I are gonna do the first one, show up in a limo all decked out. Also, anyone worried about missing the hockey or NBA playoffs, take time off from work during the day and vote at an early polling station. You wouldn’t be watching playoffs during the day anyway! Or, keep up with the action through a mobile phone app. Canada has too much to lose if Harper gets his majority. I think I can sacrifice a few hours out of my life to make sure that doesn’t happen.

  10. Take one step/flight out of this country in any direction, talk to the cab drivers, don’t read the newspapers–cab drivers are on the street–and you’ll come back and vote.

  11. Psst, pass it on, tell all your friends to vote TONIGHT…

    ..Harper would not have won if only 10% folks had voted last election.

    You don’t need a voter card to vote, you just need a picture ID, and a piece of mail with your address…

    OR you can bring someone from your riding out out with you to swear to your identity.

    Not sure where to vote? Punch in your postal code at the below link.

    IF SOMEONE HAS CALLED TO SAY YOUR POLL HAS CHANGED, it is FAKE, go to the location on your voting card or on the site below.


  12. Years ago I read about the trilateralists meeting in NYC in 1973 concluding that there was an excess of democracy and people were too well educated causing expectations to be too high. Those people are right wingers for the most part. What has happened since 1973? In Canada the media has increasingly come under the control of the wealthy right wing with a correspondingly more negative view of government and civil servants. The Fraser Institute was established and funded by the wealthy and invariably is critical of government in their s0-called research which is often willingly and uncritically spread by the media. Blaming Canadians for not voting and emploring them to do so in this atmosphere is not really going to change things. All the parties are in the current Ontario election are promising some level of austerity so do we want to shift our government slowly or quickly towards right wing values? That is the choice of voters who may know this subconsciously and thus do not vote. I used to subscribe to The Monitor but found that the economists it “hired” to research and write for them were inside the economic system box and would not step outside the box. Has CCPA been tracking in a systematic comprehensible manner the move towards right wing values using the authoritarian measures refined by Altemeyer?
    This article could be the start of that as a tool to educate people about the planned shift to the right and to counter both the lack of education and the lack of democracy now occurring. For example do some research on non-voters and their position on the left right spectrum. We might get some answers then to help us improve our democracy.

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