For 19-year-old Nadia Ebrahim, it was overwhelming to decide what to believe in this year’s federal election.
The Ryerson student voted for the first time at the advanced polling station available on campus earlier this month.
“For me, it was better to talk to people who were on the same political page as me to see what they were about, and then go online to see what all the other stuff was about and compare,” she said.
Ryerson professor Daniel Rubenson specializes in voting behaviour. He said social media may help young voters decide who they’ll vote for.
“This newest generation of voters is probably the best equipped to deal with that kind of information overload,” he said. “(They are) the first generation that has grown up having the Internet their entire lives and being very media and social-media savvy.”
According to Elections Canada, in the 2011 federal election, fewer than 39 per cent of youth aged 18 to 24 went to the polls. It’s still unclear what the turnout will be for this year’s election, but the numbers look promising. Last week, Elections Canada announced that more than 3.6 million Canadians showed up to advance polls. That’s a 71 per cent increase compared to 2011.
According to the Pew Research Center, as of 2014, 71 per cent of Internet users in the U.S. used Facebook, and most of them were users between the ages of 18 and 29. But only 23 per cent of Internet users were on Twitter, with people aged 18 to 29 still in the majority.
Although there is no Canadian-specific data available, the demographics are likely similar.
With young people making up the largest part of the Canadian workforce, according to Canadian Business, it’s no wonder that this election called for political parties to be more present online. According to Topsy, a social media analytical tool, there are approximately 1.4 million tweets under the hashtag #Elxn42.
Ebrahim said she thinks politicians have made a decent effort in reaching out to young, first-time voters like her.
“I think it’s evident with the on-campus voting and rallying from other students themselves,” she said. “There were so many places that made voting more accessible to students. I couldn’t get away from it.”
But the quest to sway young voters to be politically engaged has also come with frustrations.
For Iman Munier, also a first-time voter and Ryerson student, the nudging to engage in politics also comes from family.
“We have a sign on our lawn saying ‘Vote Liberal.’ My whole family really wants me to vote Liberal, but I really wasn’t with it,” she said.
Unlike Ebrahim, Munier doesn’t mind the social media information overload.
“It gives me the information that I probably wouldn’t find out about if it wasn’t on the platforms that I use, so I actually like it.”
According to Samara Canada, a non-partisan organization that focuses on political participation, targeting young voters goes beyond providing them with information. Only when youth take it upon themselves to vote will political participation happen.
And while many young people may have access to information because of social media, understanding the information and believing that their vote matters is a different story.
“They (political parties) understand that we matter,” says Munier. “By coming to us, using the platforms we use, they’re getting our interest. It’s important.”
For Ebrahim, one of the biggest issues in this year’s election pushed her to vote for the first time.
“The biggest thing is Bill C-51 and the whole niqab issue,” Ebrahim said. “Because I’m Muslim, really hit home for me.”
“You feel like you need to be a part of that, so it pushes me to do my part and put some sort of positivity into such a negative space.”
She said engaging in the conversation online is how she makes sense of the issues that are being discussed.
Rubenson said that although there is no knowledge test to determine voting eligibility, the information available to young people in the wake of social media likely helped them make a decision on election day.
“Understanding what’s going on is not a prerequisite, but you’re much better off understanding what’s going on,” he said.