Low Voter Turnout and Malaise
The 2022 Ontario Provincial Election was held on June 2, 2022, and Doug Ford was re-elected to serve his second term.
Voter turnout for this election was the lowest it has been in history, with 43.5 per cent of eligible Ontarians casting a ballot.
“You have to take this election and compare it to an overall trend; that over decades, voter turnout has been on the decline,” said Andrea Perrella, associate professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, who specializes in political participation and voting.
“I think the long-term decline has a lot to do with overall malaise, which is a term that we use when we study voters and citizens, about this ill-feeling or unhappiness … it is the foundation of unrest, instability, voter rage, and it starts off by withdrawal and by voters not being interested in politics.”
Perrella said that the short-term reason for low voter turnout could be that voters are not happy and none of the parties seem appealing to them.
“The long-term reason is that voters, over a long period of time, felt that politics no longer respond to them, that life has become too much of a struggle and it doesn’t matter who’s in office, it doesn’t seem to change anything,” he said.
Although this withdrawal is a stage of voter discontent, voters do not always stay withdrawn. They can be activated out of anger to vote, or hope for change in a political party, or they can become mobilized towards a common cause. An example of this is the spike in voter turnout that happened in the 2018 election.
“There will still be those who look at these voters and say, “how do I get to them?” They could be visionary to say, “how do I bring these voters back into the fold, back into the family? How do we mobilize and work as a team?” or they could be exploiting voters and saying “how do I appeal to their anxiety?” … we’re kind of at a fork in the road where the voters can be swayed by the dark forces or by hope.”
For the 2022 election, the government was elected by under 20 per cent of the electorate, so it was formed by a small minority.
“The question is, the rest of the population, how do they perceive or how do they accept that result? Do they shrug and say, “whatever?” … If they say, “oh, no, it’s not what I expected, I didn’t vote, but it’s not what I expected either,” then you have the beginnings of potentially illegitimacy crisis… I’m not sure we’re seeing much of that. I think voters are more turned off.”
Another implication of low voter turnout is that voters do not see themselves represented in the government.
“When there’s this disconnect between those in power and us, then we may begin to feel a little alienated,” said Perrella said.
If the policies that the government puts forward do not align with people’s interests, then it can further exacerbate the sentiment of disconnect which can aggravate any simmering discontent that there is in the citizenry.
As a way to increase voter turnout, people in the media have called for a need for a voting mandate for eligible residents, which can be a difficult thing to enforce onto people and uphold.
“If you’re going to make voting mandatory… I think you need to make the teaching of civics better. If you’re going to draft people into engaging in an activity, you have to train them,” Perrella said.
“Most people do not yet have enough of a grasp, and it’s not their fault. It’s the fault that we haven’t done enough to educate the public about how the political system works.”
In the future, local representatives and elected officials need to further engage with the community to increase political engagement and encourage voter turnout in the province.
“There should be more opportunities to engage with them… I think one solution is to narrow the gap between the government and the citizens,” Perrella said. “I think governance needs to be closer to the people and I think the people need to feel a little bit more empowered.”
Elected officials can begin the process of empowering their constituents by listening to them and by being more present in the community.