VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – You might be politically-engaged, but will you be voting on May 14th?
As we count down the weeks to the next provincial election, more people are turning to the media and other information sources to educate themselves about the issues.
Mike Coledge, President of Canadian Public Affairs for Ipsos Reid, has been collecting statistics on our social engagement for a number of years now and, in his blog, he suggests we are engaging, organizing, and enriching our society online every day. That includes political engagement.
“It struck me, I was at a conference actually, and people were lamenting the decline in youth voting. At the time, I said it is a decline in participation in the traditional political process for sure; they’re not voting as much, they’re not in memberships as much, although Justin Trudeau seems to be turning that around, but I don’t think that they’re not engaged in issues,” he tells News1130.
“If you look at the kinds of debates out there in social media, I think they’re just finding new ways.”
Statistics compiled by Ipsos since 2007 suggest 26 per cent of Canadians go online every day to get information or to discuss policy/social/political issues. If we look at the weekly use of social media to get information about or discuss policy, social, and/or political issues, we see more than four in ten Canadians (42 per cent) are online every week, participating in these activities and it is young Canadians (those least likely to vote) that lead the way.
Weekly users of social media who get information about or discuss policy/social/political issues peaks among Canadians 18 to 34 years old (56 per cent) and Canadians with a university degree (58 per cent).
Eleven per cent of Canadians have started conversations or written original ideas about policy/social/political issues online. A closer look shows that they are more likely to be men (14 per cent) than women (eight per cent), be under the age of 34 (18 per cent) and have a university degree (23 per cent).
“The group I find most interesting is the one that defines itself as authors, creators of unique content. They’re not just online going to the Globe and Mail or News1130‘s website; they’re actually commenting on them. They’re writing original pieces, in their view, on the issues of the day. It jumps considerably when you look at under 34 and when you look at university degrees,” adds Coledge.
“There’s a lot of discussion about the rise of citizen or cyber-journalists. When you start to look on social sites, they aren’t just journalists reporting on events; they’re this neat mix of cyber-pundits trying to be political commentators, cyber-activists pushing their agenda, and cyber-journalists who are forwarding information and reporting on events.”
“Certainly, when Facebook came out, I don’t think anybody thought it would be a great platform for social discussions on a range of issues, and we don’t know yet where it’s going to go. I think it’s a great tool now for mobilizing and communicating with supporters. What I haven’t seen is a lot of people shifting alliances or moving from one camp to another based on their activities online.”
Online engagement with the issues doesn’t necessarily translate into participation in more traditional political processes, including getting out to vote.
“It’s hard to say yes, it’s hard to say no,” says Coledge.
“I mean if you look at the UK riots or the Arab Spring, it was pretty clear that social media played a role in organizing and getting people out, but I think the underlying angst in terms of the lack of a democratic process or high jobless rates for youths are what created the movements and then social media was used to push people forward. That happened with Occupy as well.”
Coledge points to the Idle No More movement as a more recent example. “There was lots of chatter online, and if you look at the sentiment, lots of pro and positive chatter online. But for the most part, our public opinion research showed that it fell flat with the public. In fact, it created an issue that wasn’t there before, in terms of accountability for them.”
And despite the large number of Canadians participating in political and social discourse online, Coledge reminds us more have disengaged from traditional political involvement, including decreased voter turnout, lower public meeting attendance, fewer serving on committees, and working with political parties.