A month ago, NDP candidate David Eby claimed victory over Liberal leader and B.C. premier Christy Clark in the Vancouver-Point Grey riding. Looking back, the student vote was a focal point in this year’s elections.
The UBC campus was the focus of much campaigning by the UBC law prof and his team, who made sure students knew how and when they could vote, said Eby campaign manager Kate Van Meer-Mass.
“A lot of time was spent door-knocking and speaking to students face to face so that they would feel some accountability and engagement as opposed to just dropping off leaflets or providing only social media activities,” she said. “[We tried] to engage students on a personal level so that they would become further involved with the political process.”
Eby said there was no secret “Obama-esque” strategy of data analytics or number crunching in use to engage students; volunteers simply walked around campus telling people about the NDP platform, trying to raise awareness of the upcoming election. Along with NDP MP Olivia Chow, Eby met students at the 99 B-Line bus stop and rode with them to the returning office to vote.
Such traditional efforts to increase voter turnout are nevertheless an uphill struggle, as student turnout has not been great in recent years. In the last B.C. general election in 2009, Elections BC found that 49 per cent of voters were 55 or older, while only 16 per cent were between the ages of 18 and 34, as reported in The Globe and Mail.
This year, 24,163 votes were cast in the Vancouver-Point Grey riding, but no breakdown of the voter turnout demographics is available yet.
The AMS was also tasked with getting students to the polls. The student society ran Make Your Mark, a campaign whose goal was to raise awareness about the elections, increase voter turnout and advocate for student issues such as post-secondary funding and transportation.
AMS VP External Affairs Tanner Bokor said Make Your Mark was an unbiased attempt to get the vote out to students through events such as all-candidate forums and debates.
“The tactics we took were more to get people interested rather than taking a hardline stance on things,” said Bokor. “We didn’t want to be in the selection lobbing in favour of one party or the other, we wanted to be the voice of the intermediary.”
Bokor said the feedback from the Make Your Mark campaign showed most students lacked knowledge of the B.C. political system, and he got the feeling that there is a “lack of connection between those running [policy makers] and those on the receiving end, being the students or the general public.”
For Gabriel Giauque, a fourth-year anthropology student who ran the UBC portion of the NDP campaign, the major challenge was overcoming student indifference to the elections.
“The biggest issue was not getting people to vote NDP…, it was just getting them to actually vote,” he said.
Bokor said the elections coinciding with the end of the academic year when most students have left campus was part of the reason why the student turnout was so low.
Eby said the NDP fought to move the elections from May to September.
“Ultimately students won’t go out and vote until large structural changes are made,” said Eby.