Youth hold the balance of power over two politicians

Voters aged 18 to 24 hold in their hands the fate of two politicians who will stand before the electorate this fall. And, according to what these voters decide, the results will prove quite different for them.

The two politicians we are talking about are Jean Charest in Quebec and Barack Obama in the United States. Both are hoping for a re-election and are doing so in a difficult context. According to polls, both are facing a tight race. So much so that their fate won’t be sealed until the very end.

The electoral survival of these politicians rests, in a significant way, on the choices that young voters will make on voting day. If a great many of those young voters make use of their democratic right, the outcome will be completely different than if they hadn’t voted.

Let’s start with Quebec, where Jean Charest is vying for a fourth consecutive mandate. That race is threefold, and could easily end up in a minority government. It’s what happened last time when three parties fiercely competed for power. During the election of 2007, Jean Charest’s Liberals only obtained a minority, and this happened because of the interest generated by Mario Dumont’s Action Democratique du Quebec.

However, one element could change everything and seal the fate of Jean Charest’s government – voters aged 18 to 24. They could give Pauline Marois’ Parti Quebecois a majority.

Nevertheless, if these young people stay away from the polls on September 4 – as they have done in the past – this would be good for Jean Charest and please him greatly, I’m sure.

In fact, the reality in Quebec and elsewhere in the country, is alarming. A study based on the 2008 Quebec election, which gave the Liberals a majority, indicated that the rate of active voters in the 18–24 age category was a disastrous 36%.

For Jean Charest and his team, this tendency is in no way troubling because the younger electorate in Quebec, especially among the francophones, tends to vote for the Parti Quebecois.

Should the student strike movement, which made so much noise last spring, manage to awaken young Quebecers’ political vigor, the Parti Quebecois will, no doubt, greatly benefit from it. They will be the deciding factor in the final outcome.

It’s no doubt why people have made such a big deal of young pequiste candidate Leo Bureau-Blouin, the poster-child of the student demonstration movement, who resonated with such a great number of young people last spring. His presence among the Parti Quebecois’s troops certainly encourages the hope that young voters will take action, since they have so clearly demonstrated their disdain of the Liberal Party.

A similar phenomenon is to be observed south of the border. But there, should young voters go to the polls, the current President, Barack Obama, would have a clear lead over his Republican opponent.

President Obama owes his 2008 victory in great part to the younger electorate. With an estimated participation rate of 50–54%, the second highest participation rate in the history of the United States, these young people voted for Obama in a two to one ratio. But the 2008 participation rate was only a hiccup, and not at all representative of young people’s usual inclination toward the democratic exercise.

In fact, it is said that this very group has been greatly disappointed with the current President’s performance. If it goes back to its usual apathy toward the voting process and shuns the polls, Obama will find himself in a difficult spot. This is why we can expect his team to multiply its efforts to reach out to this strategic group.

Translation Monique Kroeger