If party leaders gave young voters a reason to be excited about this election, they would be more likely to turn up at the polls on election day and reverse the "vicious cycle" that keeps voter turnout among youths at record lows.

Youth and student groups believe the issues that matter to them are largely ignored in federal elections, while parties target their platforms and campaign literature to families and seniors.

"There's been a real kind of challenge put forward for the parties to speak to issues like the environment, education and the greater economic insecurity that a lot of young people face," said Jamie Biggar, executive director of leadnow.ca, a youth advocacy organization.

Those issues have "not at all" been adequately addressed in the election campaign so far, Biggar said, but he's hopeful the parties will change course before May 2.

"There's a vicious cycle, which is that the parties don't believe younger voters will turn out in the same numbers as older voters will, and as a result don't speak to the issues that younger voters care about," Biggar told CTV.ca

"In turn, younger voters feel alienated by the parties, by the political system, and so turn out in lower numbers."

In the 2008 federal election, the voting rate among 18- to 24-year-olds was 37.4 per cent -- well below the overall average of 58.8 per cent -- and part of a general downward trend that stretches back to 1984.

To reverse that trend, Biggar's group is helping to organize student-led "vote mobs" in the hopes of mobilizing young Canadians.

Videos of the mobs have been uploaded to social networking websites like Facebook and YouTube. They're usually set to music and show crowds walking or running through a university campus, interspersed with messages encouraging young people to vote. Some of the videos have been viewed more than 20,000 times online.

The first vote mob was held at the University of Guelph on April 4, after comedian Rick Mercer urged young Canadians in a televised rant to cast their votes in the federal election.

"Every time you watch one of these things, you come away with the feeling that the kids are alright, the country's alright, people are engaged," Mercer said of the vote mob videos.

"It's phenomenal, it's spreading all across the country and it's terrifying the political parties," he said Sunday on CTV's Question Period.

There are 2.9 million eligible voters under age 25, according to Elections Canada. If that age group were to cast ballots in high enough numbers on May 2 they could sway the outcome of closely contested federal ridings, said Eric Grenier of threehundredandeight.com, a website that makes electoral projections based on analysis of polling.

A higher turnout among young voters could also help determine whether the Conservatives win a majority or a minority government, he said.

Cameron Fenton, National Director with the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition, said the vote mobs show there's "at least visibly more engagement" with the election by younger Canadians.

But the parties have largely ignored their concerns, he said, rather than seeking their vote.

During the English-language leaders' debate last week, Fenton was disappointed to hear "minimal conversations" about post-secondary education and no questions about climate change.

Failing to address such issues "is fuelling what many people consider apathy -- but I think a lot of young people consider it disempowerment," he said.


Jamie Biggar is the co-founder and Executive Director of LeadNow.ca, an independent, youth-led advocacy organization that helps Canadians of all generations participate in their democracy. He has launched several organizations, led campaigns that used online strategies to mobilize tens of thousands of Canadians across party lines, and chairs the Sierra Club of BC.

Eric Grenier started ThreeHundredEight.com to track the pulse of Canadians who will elect MPs to the House of Common's 308 seats. Grenier is a writer specializing in Canadian politics and history. His work has appeared in the Globe and Mail and the Hill Times, along with Le Devoir. ThreeHundredEight.com was first started in 2008, inspired by FiveThirtyEight.com, a similar site in the United States.