No longer raging against the machine, skepticism in youth voters

As the popularity of novels such as The Hunger Games and Divergent, as well as their film adaptations, increases, the themes of dystopia beg an important question. Are young people in Canada dissatisfied with the status quo?

Divergent, The City of Ember, and the wildly popular Hunger Games suggest a general dissatisfaction among young people. The common theme that runs throughout these novels is their strong, young leading characters living in a world ruined by an older generation.

In a survey of 20 Durham College students, ten felt that the federal government didn’t pay enough attention to student issues while four believed the government paid enough attention and the remaining six didn’t believe they followed politics well enough to answer.

Ten of the surveyed students were old enough to vote in the last federal election, which was in 2011, and, of those, only four voted. Seven of the ten students who weren’t old enough in 2011 plan on voting in the next federal election in 2015.

These statistics align with Statistics Canada. Thirty-nine per cent of young people aged 18 – 24 went to the polls in the 2011 general election when Stephen Harper’s Conservatives won a majority government. The number of young voters increased by five percent over the election prior to 2011s, but this increase was still lower than the increase in other demographics.

The reason young people don’t participate in elections as much as other demographics is due to their skepticism, according to professor Robert Wright, who teaches Canadian politics and history at Trent University in Oshawa.

“If you talk to young people in classes like mine they’ll say ‘my vote doesn’t matter we always get the same crappy policies anyway,’” Wright said.

According to Wright, this is due to the political parties in Canada becoming more similar to one another over the years.

“I couldn’t tell you the difference between Paul Martin and Stephen Harper,” he said.

But the impact young people could have on Canadian politics is profound, Wright explained.

“The Green party would be a reputable contender instead of a marginal, fanciful party. The Liberal party would be in power with a huge majority, and Stephen Harper would be looking for work basically.”

This doesn’t let young people off the hook though. As much as young people don’t seem to want to vote because of their belief that their vote doesn’t matter, their vote doesn’t matter because they don’t vote. While voting may not be the fight against authority that young people envision in the Hunger Games, the stakes aren’t quite as high as the characters in the novel have to face.

According to Pamela Drayson, head librarian at the Durham College and UOIT library, this trend isn’t unique to this generation.

“It’s a common theme in literature for many generations,” Drayson said.

She says that looking back on literature there is a link between contemporary works such as the Hunger Games and older forms of literary rebellion such as Lord of the Flies, the beat poets, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and even Edgar Allen Poe. This link is rebellion and social commentary on the previous generation.

She also says that these works of fiction aren’t direct representations of people’s public opinions.

“I don’t think they’re meant to paint with such a broad brush and represent everyone,” she said.

Since youth participation in politics is on a slow increase, the power of these books may be important to understand how young people feel. According to Drayson, authors create worlds in fiction to explore issues in the real world through their characters and it is through this exploration that we can come to understand people better.