These young people who make the political choice not to vote
18-34 year olds vote less than previous generations. The explanation put forward in the so-called mainstream media is that young people are not interested enough or are not equipped enough to go to the polls. However, the media coverage has a major blind spot: these young people who reject the parliamentary system and choose not to vote out of conviction.
Francis Dupuis-Déri, professor of political science at the University of Quebec in Montreal and researcher at the Institute for Research and Feminist Studies (IREF), is an expert in abstentionism and anarchy. Of the existing explanations for the high rate of youth abstention, “the one we usually take away is that young people are not interested in politics, are apathetic”.
The Institut du Nouveau Monde (INM), which aims to promote citizen participation in democracy, however, has carried out several studies that prove the opposite: “What we see is that young people are interested in future of Québec, take an interest in public affairs. It's not a question of lack of interest in collective issues, on the contrary.”
Participation rates< /strong>in provincial elections are down across the province. In the 2018 elections, the turnout was 66.45%. In the 2008 election, this was down to 57%. These are the two lowest rates recorded since 1927.
Across Quebec, the participation rate of those under 35 in provincial elections is “just above 50%” . On the island of Montreal, only 44.41% of 18-24 year olds turned out to vote, compared to 48.18% among 25-34 year olds.
The Research Chair in Democracy and Parliamentary Institutions conducted a study on participation rates in provincial elections in collaboration with Élections Québec. The results show that this downward trend is explained (in part at least) by the fact that the younger generations vote less than those who preceded them at the same age. The proportion of voters in this age bracket is also lower than that in older age brackets.
Other “more technical” factors can also explain the low participation rate among young people, explains Mr. Dupuis-Déri. For example, this is a group that moves around a lot and does not always have the reflex to register on the electoral lists. “So those are two explanations that are not very interesting”, in his eyes as a researcher.
It is that among highly educated people, there is both a very high percentage of votes, but there is also a rate of 'important abstention.
Francis Dupuis-Déri, professor in the Department of Political Science at UQAM and researcher at IREF
The high abstention rate of this generation can be explained “precisely” because it’s a slice of the population very interested in politics, “but also very refractory or even disgusted by institutional politics”, he adds.
These young people “take politics so seriously that they find that reducing it to partisan and electoral politics is absurd, and therefore they prefer to do politics differently,” explains Francis Dupuis-Déri.
Subwaymet Cyndelle Gagnon, bachelor in political philosophy at the University of Montreal and student in the DESS in applied ethics at Laval University. She has been volunteering for a community organization for a few years and was (briefly) involved with Québec solidaire… but she does not vote.
“To say that people are not sufficiently informed, that they are not involved enough politically… It's such a restricted conception of political involvement to think that it's just going to vote”, judges the one who does not “trust” the current parliamentary system.
I want the decentralization of complete power, so I come very close to anarchism. I want every decision to be made closest to each person individually. And that we are represented as little as possible by other people.
Cyndelle Gagnon, bachelor in political philosophy at the University of Montreal and student in the DESS in applied ethics at Laval University
Small definition of anarchism: Anarchy does not endorse the rejection of all rules or laws. When we talk about anarchy or anarchism, “we can talk about direct democracy“, vulgarizes Francis Dupuis-Déri. There are different currents of anarchy, but summarily, “a direct democracy implies, on a large scale, in a functional way, a decentralization of power”.
To make a connection with the claims and ideologies of Ms. Gagnon, anarchy implies that the laws and rules are decided directly by the citizens, by mutual agreement. “I want there to be as few people as possible between individuals and decision-making,” she sums up.
What Ms. Gagnon criticizes the parliamentary system for is that the elected officials see their role as “decision-making rather than representative”. She judges that elected officials are often not close enough to the people or the community they represent.
You are a candidate. You have to get the people who will vote for you or not for you. You have to go talk to them, you have to be close to them.
Provincial – and federal – elected officials would make decisions for too many people for this democracy to remain representative of the needs and desires of the population. “If there are more and more people who are not going to vote, well that is where the government will be less and less legitimate, and it is this legitimacy that I want to question.”
Direct democracy can exist immediately, says Francis Dupuis-Déri. No need to rely on a utopia of revolution, since it is already put forward, “in the social movements, in the community movement, in the union movement of certain centrals, certain unions; this is the case in the student movement. That's how it already works,” said the professor of political science.
You don't have to wait for the end of the parliamentary system to operate according to the principles of direct democracy.
Involvement in community organizations is the key to allowing citizens to represent themselves more directly, Judge Gagnon. What she wants, “is to put the money in the organizations, to go to the organizations. So that we educated people go there rather than in corporate ones.”
The symbolism of abstentionism
“Not to vote is say that you are against [the system of parliamentary democracy]. And so in that sense, what does [the high abstention rate] say about this system? Well, it seems that there is a majority of people who either look at him in a jaded and disillusioned way, or downright negatively, ”suggests Francis Dupuis-Déri.
He reiterates, however, that it is not necessarily all people who do not vote who define themselves as anarchists. Direct democracy also remains a type of democracy.
For its part, the INM remains categorical: there are still young people who do not vote because they do not feel joined by the different political parties, or who do not vote because they are not interested. The level of understanding of the functioning of democratic institutions of some young people, whether they vote or not, is “not very good”, also observes the Institute.
You do not need to be an academic to that the abstention of an individual is considerable, agree however to say Francis Dupuis-Déri and Cyndelle Gagnon, each on their side.
It is still a failure of [representative] democracy. People were not able to reach out to the population. […] This lassitude is a failure. Whatever your opinion, if you're not going to vote, there's still something wrong.
A crisis of democracy?
This trend of declining participation is also seen in other age groups, explains the INM. “What happens among 18-24 year olds is a reflection of what happens in the upper age groups.”
In some parts of the population, the abstention rate is “enormous”. The professor at UQAM gives as an example the Mohawk community living near Montreal, where the abstention rate sometimes reaches 98 or 99%. “They consider that the Quebec government or the Canadian government is not their government, it is not their state, so they do not vote,” he explains.
This decline in the participation rate, we do not observe it only at home, also underlines Mr. Dupuis-Déri. “It's in all the so-called Western countries, all the liberal-type parliamentary regimes, it's been falling everywhere since the 1990s,” he says.
At the INM, “we believe that we can agree with a perception of democracy in crisis in the sense that the tendency is to retreat and weaken”. He hastens to point out that there are important nuances and compares Quebec to the United States, where the “crisis” is such that fundamental rights are in danger.
A study carried out by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development showed that people have more confidence in local authorities, the civil service and judicial institutions than to the national government. Trust in the media and political parties is also low.
Governments are seen as trustworthy in the post-pandemic environment, but empowering citizens to make their voices heard is key to building trust.
“This is very worrying because that it is the legitimacy of our democratic institutions that is threatened by the drop in electoral participation, worries for her part the director general of the INM, Malorie Flon. The less people there are who vote, the less these institutions will be legitimate to play their role.”
Francis Dupuis-Déri claims to have a “much more cynical” point of view. Rather, he asserts that the parliamentary system is not in crisis and that the high rate of abstention is “moreover proof that there is a problem with this electoral system”, since the parliamentary system is not “self-abolishing”. not when there is an abstention rate or a limit that is reached”.
No, actually, it's not a disaster. Look at the system, it works. If you like the system, well you can calm down, get upset about other things.
But to tell yourself that you have to choose between representative democracy and totalitarianism, “that's a simplistic binary choice that simply pays attention to whoever leads at the top of the state”, retorts for his part Francis Dupuis-Déri. Because people who abstain from voting, “that's not what they're going to watch”.
They will say that we can do politics differently in our unions, our neighborhoods, our living environment, in the countryside, at the level of equitable economic projects, at the social level, at the level of the militant commitment of protest against the pipelines or I don't know what. So all that is politics and it happens regardless of the system at the top.
Vote for the “least-worst” option
The professor at UQAM recalls that many choose to vote for the “least worst” option… until you become completely disillusioned and abstain. These citizens, by dint of voting against a party all their lives (rather than voting for a party), ask themselves “how is it […] that they are sold the electoral system as the one that would represent a plurality of choice, which would represent the different opinions found in a society”.
The Coalition avenir Québec was elected by 37% of the population in 2018. It forms a majority government with 76 seats out of 125 in the National Assembly.< /p>
Some citizens will adopt an “additive vision of political actions”, explains M Dupuis-Déri. They will choose to do direct democracy, but vote too, in an effort to help ensure that the “least worst” of parties comes to power.
This is what the INM encourages. In the eyes of the Institute, having other kinds of citizen participation than a vote every four years is one of the characteristics of a healthy democracy.
There is an important complementarity with representative democracy because we must have elected representatives to govern. But it must be combined with a strong participatory democracy that will get involved in a different way.
Malorie Flon, Director General of the Institut du Nouveau Monde
For Francis Dupuis-Déri, the approach of voting “for the least worst option” presents “several problems”. One of them is that of moral responsibility: “You support a party that you do not find that interesting and that you even find that some of its policies are problematic.”
The other problem is more technical. “The political parties, they are not just there to float above us, he recalls, they drain a lot of resources and energies from people in their machine all year round. So the popular movements and the citizens' movements which want to be more autonomous, which want to make their own decisions, they see the resources drained away by these parties.”
To continue to vote, even for “The least worst option”, therefore amounts to giving legitimacy to these parliamentarians “who have assumed full powers to make decisions for us. So we are dispossessed of the ability to make decisions together.”
For Malorie Flon of the INM, this seems to prove “that we need to talk more in our society about the functioning of our institutions, and maybe have debates about things that are working less well. It proves that there is a need to talk and understand how we want to govern ourselves and make our decisions”.