Youthquake? Public attitudes to youth civic engagement in Canada

Canadians believe youth are unprepared to be active civic leaders in their community, but most think they should have more influence on government decisions.

As American youth mobilize and engage to change policy around gun control in the United States, Canadians have doubts about how prepared Canadian youth are to do the same. Seven in ten Canadian adults believe that Canadian youth are unprepared to be civic leaders in their community according to a survey conducted for a coalition of national youth serving agencies.

Overall, 70% feel that young Canadians are not that prepared or not at all prepared to be active civic leaders in their community which we defined as being prepared to vote, become active in the community, and engage with political and community leaders.

And this feeling is shared across demographic and regional groups. Although younger respondents were more likely to think youth are prepared than older respondents, clear majorities in all age groups, regions of the country and both men and women felt this way.

Despite feeling youth may not be prepared to become active civic leaders, there’s a clear sense they don’t have the influence they should on government decision making.

A majority believe that youth have too little influence over the decisions governments make. We asked respondents to rate the amount of influence different groups in Canada have over government decisions. Most feel that wealthy and business people have too much influence while majorities felt that the middle class, young people, seniors, and those in the working class have too little influence.

While we might expect there to be a relationship between one’s age and one’s perception of the influence of different age groups, we do not see one when it comes perceptions about young people’s influence on government decisions.

Older Canadians are as likely as younger ones to feel that youth don’t have enough influence on policy. In contrast, older respondents are more likely than younger respondents to think seniors don’t have enough influence on policy decisions.


For the most part, Canadians think many solutions will have a big impact on helping to prepare youth to be civic leaders. But the two perceived to have the greatest impact by the most people are: providing youth with more job-ready skills and making education more affordable so students have more free time to get involved in their communities.

Majorities also believed that providing more experiences that allow youth to interact with people from different age groups and backgrounds and providing more opportunities generally would help prepare youth to be civic leaders.


When asked, Canadians were most likely to rank the rising cost of living and housing, education and skills development, mental health, and the affordability of post-secondary education as top priorities related to youth for government to address.

Other highly ranked issues included drug and alcohol abuse, bullying, and income inequality and youth poverty.

Among younger respondents (those aged 18 to 29), the ranking of issues looks similar to the overall results with a few exceptions.

Younger Canadians were more likely to rank cost of living and housing and mental health higher than older respondents. They were also more likely to prioritize climate change than older respondents (18% vs. 12%). In contrast, they were less likely to rank education and skills development and drug and alcohol abuse as top priorities for government to address.


“We may be seeing an awakening of youth engagement around the world and here in Canada. Whether it’s the student marches against gun violence in the United States or increasing youth voter turnout in the UK and Canada, there’s growing evidence that young people are becoming more politically engaged.

Despite this, our polling finds Canadian adults don’t believe youth are as prepared as they should be to become active civic leaders and most feel youth don’t have the influence they should on government decision makers. Most importantly, this view is held by Canadians of all ages, not just youth.

Barriers to youth engagement are clear to the public. The rising cost of post-secondary education means youth need to work more to help pay for it, leaving less time to become politically engaged. The digitally saturated lives of the typical youth also leave them less prepared to engage in traditional advocacy, as many lack confidence and skills in face-to-face communications. Canadians think programs and organizations that give youth these types of skills and free up more of their time will have a big impact on preparing them to engage in the political life of our country.

Youth issues don’t just concern youth. Canadians from all age groups share concerns about the rising cost of living, housing, and education, the growing mental health challenge faced by young people, and skills and education youth require to compete in the global economy. Canadians think these should be the priorities for governments.

Our political leaders are starting to recognize the political power of young Canadians and the issues that matter to them and their families. As more youth are engaged and asked to participate, their influence will continue to grow.”


The survey was conducted online with 2,000 Canadians aged 18 and over from February 16th to 25th, 2018. A random sample of panelists was invited to complete the survey from a set of partner panels based on the Lucid exchange platform. These partners are typically double opt-in survey panels, blended to manage out potential skews in the data from a single source.

The Marketing Research and Intelligence Association policy limits statements about margins of sampling error for most online surveys. The margin of error for a comparable probability-based random sample of the same size is +/- 2.2%, 19 times out of 20.

The data were weighted according to census data to ensure that the sample matched Canada’s population according to age, gender, educational attainment, and region. Totals may not add up to 100 due to rounding.


A coalition of Canada’s leading youth-serving organizations commissioned this research. Participating organizations are:


Abacus Data is the only firm in Canada that helps organizations deal with the unprecedented threat of generational change and technological disruption.

We offer global research capacity with a strong focus on customer service, attention to detail and value-added insight. Our team combines the experience of our Chairman Bruce Anderson, one of Canada’s leading research executives for two decades, with the energy, creativity and research expertise of CEO David Coletto, Ph.D.

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