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Election 2019: Millennials were pivotal for Trudeau in 2015, but will they show up again?

Last Updated Oct 14, 2019 at 2:09 pm MDT

FILE - Young people walk to class at UBC's Point Grey campus in the fall of 2019. (Source: Kurtis Doering/NEWS 1130)

Trudeau's chances of being re-elected on Oct. 21 may hinge on millennials

The group of voters born between 1980 and 2000 came out in record numbers in 2015 to support Trudeau

If any party wants to attract millennial votes, Abacus Data has found that climate is the issue to focus on

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Justin Trudeau’s chances of remaining the Prime Minister of Canada after Oct. 21 may hinge on a group which came out in record numbers to support him in 2015 — millennials.

The 2019 federal election is the first in which people born after the turn of the century are eligible to vote. Millennials are now the largest voting block in the country, encompassing 37 per cent of potential voters.

It’s a group that Ottawa-based pollster Abacus Data and its CEO David Coletto surveys twice a year. Abacus defines “millennial” as anyone born between 1980 and 2000, meaning the oldest millennials are fast approaching age 40.

“Politically, I think they are engaged. They’re well aware of the issues of the day — that’s what our research consistently shows,” Coletto says.

“But ultimately, one of the things that I think differentiates millennial voters… with older generations is they lack a true sense of civic duty. And it’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s that they won’t do something just because they should. You’re not going to vote just because you should vote, you’re going to vote because there’s a reason to vote.”

Such a reason was present in 2015 when a young Liberal leader presented a fresh alternative to years of Harper government rule. Elections Canada recorded its largest-ever increase in participation for voters aged 18 to 24, from 18.3 per cent in 2011 to 57.1 per cent.

The rise in turnout was even more pronounced among voters aged 25 to 37 — up 45 per cent from 2011.

“If millennials come out and they overwhelmingly vote for one option, that will have a big impact — as I think it did in 2015 for Mr. Trudeau and the Liberals — on the outcome of the election,” Coletto says.

However, the last four years has undoubtedly taken the shine off Justin Trudeau’s image. The SNC-Lavalin affair, the purchase of the Trans Mountain expansion, and the more-recent blackface/brownface controversy has highlighted the gap between Trudeau’s words and actions, which opposition parties have been all-too-keen to point out during the campaign.

“I personally think Trudeau sort of had his moment, but in light of recent events, I find it’s a little more difficult to pull for him this time around,” says 29-year-old UBC student James Simpson.

“There have been too many broken promises,” says Ben Petkau, a 28-year-old Green Party supporter. “He promised us electoral reform and then he abandoned it, he promised climate action and then he bought a pipeline, and he promised sunny ways and government transparency, and then he fired his attorney general when she wouldn’t let him interfere in a criminal justice case.”

If any party wants to attract millennial votes, Abacus Data has found that climate is the issue to focus on above all else. In its most recent Canadian Millennials Report, 87 per cent of those surveyed considered themselves to be either environmental moderates or ardent environmentalists.

As well, 73 per cent of millennials indicated they would consider climate change as one of the top five factors affecting their vote.

Climate policy has been a major part of the Liberal Party’s campaign thus far. Speaking in NDP leader Jagmeet Singh’s Burnaby riding on day 14 of the campaign, Justin Trudeau outlined a plan to make Canada carbon neutral by 2050.