During the 2011 federal election, broadcaster Rick Mercer challenged youth to be more involved in politics and Guelph students responded. Yvonne Su was an organizer of the first vote mob — a surprise gathering of a group of non-partisan students to bring attention to the youth vote — on the University of Guelph campus. The movement quickly spread, with 45 more vote mobs taking place across Canada.
With another election in October, Su is once again encouraging youth to vote through her new organization, Vote Savvy.
“I think the vote mobs provided the first step in the ladder of engagement for youth,” says Su, now a PhD student in political science and international development. “But there is often so much negativity in politics – look at all the attack ads on now. They’re everywhere. So our goal this time is to provide information to youth in a fun and friendly way.”
Vote Savvy’s campaigns include a series of videos with the same theme: you wouldn’t let others make choices for you in most areas of your life, so why let others decide which politicians will make the big decisions for your country? To illustrate the point, the first video features Canadian Olympic trampolinist Jason Burnett getting advice on his trampoline routine from a random stranger.
The Vote Savvy website also includes a quiz to help young people determine the issues that are important to them and the position of each political party.
“We’ve also reached out to 25 universities and persuaded them to become official Vote Savvy campuses,” says Tyler Valiquette, a U of G master’s student and co-founder of the campaign. “This gives us the opportunity to work with student unions and other campus groups to reach hundreds of thousands of students.” They are also connected with other organizations promoting the youth vote.
Valiquette and Su see developing political literacy as an important part of the university experience and getting involved can have real benefits. “Because youth traditionally have a low voting rate, politicians don’t pay much attention to us. If we can show them that we are voting, they will respond,” says Su.
How many youth actually vote? In 2011, 39 per cent of eligible voters ages 18-24 voted, compared to 61 per cent of voters of all ages, meaning there is a gap of more than 20 per cent between youth and older voters.
Vote Savvy aims to tackle that gap in a direct way as well. There will be vote mobs again this year, including one during Orientation Week. “But the plan this time is that after we gather, everyone goes to vote. We’ll have this set up at the Elections Canada office in advance,” says Su.