Voting is considered as one of the most fundamental elements of civic engagement. In fact, it is often regarded as the ultimate sign of the health of a democratic process whereas a decline in voting rates is interpreted as a symptom of “democratic deficit”. Notably, voter turnouts in most countries tend to vary by groups, with some groups registering a worryingly low turnout (Uppal & LaRochelle-Côté, 2012). In Canada, there are significant differences between voter participation of aboriginals and non-aboriginals. This essay will discuss the voter participation in Canada and the social standing of aboriginal and non-aboriginal populations. Lastly, it will evaluate the argument of an article covering the differences between the two groups’ voter participation and suggest possible solutions to bring down differences between the two groups.
Studies conducted between the 1950s and 1960s described a low voter turnout and apathy in Canada as symptomatic of a widespread acceptance of the current regime (Howe & Bedford, 2009). In a study of Bedford and Pobihushchy, the turnout on reserves in 1995 was found to be lower compared to the rest of Canada and still is worse, the rates are on the decline (as cited in Howe & Bedford, 2009). Nonetheless, generally, the voter turnout in the elections and referendum in Canada was above 50% throughout its history and it actually peaked in 1958-1963 when it went close to 80%. Interesting to note that as far back as 1867, the turnout was 73.1%. Considering this early recognition of the need to participate in elections and referendums, the population of Canada would be expected to have the high turnout in modern-day elections. This is not exactly the case, since, according to the office of the chief electoral officer, in 2011 the turnout rate stood at 61.1% (Elections Canada, n.d). However, the historical statistics if considered as a whole are indicative of a population that is not so ignorant of its voting rights and has a considerable desire to take part in their the governance of its country. Nevertheless, the country could do better in terms of voter participation if the rates among the aboriginals, which remained characteristically low, were improved.
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In order to understand the differences in voter participation of aboriginals and non-aboriginals in Canada, it is important to explore the social standing of the two groups. Notably, aboriginals are characterized by a lower social standing compared to their counterparts. Firstly, except for Inuit women, both aboriginal men and women have lower income levels compared to their British-origin counterparts. This remains so even if we factor in the age and education levels. Consequently, the aboriginals are extremely poor that can be explained in terms of their relatively young population and low level of education (Pendakur & Pendakur, 2013). For another thing, income gaps also vary across the aboriginal groups; the widest one is between the registered Indian men and their counterparts of British origin, whereby it stands at 50%. The low income level of the aboriginals translates into other factors, which put them at the lowest level of a social ranking. These include poverty and poor health, and as a cycle, lower levels of education owing to a lack of money on the financing of education. On the other hand, non-aboriginals have higher income levels that, in turn, reflect in their higher social standing. They can afford quality education, which returns in a higher employability leading them to a higher standard of living (Pendakur & Pendakur, 2013).
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Berdahl, Poelzer, and Beatty (2012) reveal that the low voter turnout among the aboriginals in Canada is an issue of concern not only to the country leaders but also to the interest groups and even the government itself. In the 2011 election, where the turnout of the aboriginals was also low, provincial aboriginal organizations were involved in the efforts to appeal to their people to come out and exercise their voting rights. In fact, government agencies have started paying attention to the issue, they are now considered to make greater efforts to improve the voter turnout of aboriginals than countries such as Australia and the U.S. For instance, starting from the 1990s, Elections Canada has initiated several projects aimed at sensitizing the aboriginals of their right to take part in elections and referendums, as we well as other initiatives that target taking the electoral processes more accessible to the group (Berdahl et al., 2012).
The study conducted by Berdahl et al. (2012) in Saskatchewan found that on-reserve First Nations have a lower voter turnout compared to non-aboriginals, and this is even when socio-demographic and other variables are factored in. The authors established that some of the factors to blame for this trend are the social status, historical context, location of the group, as well as the aboriginals’ interests, identity, and kinship-based networks. These factors affect the political decisions made by people, and in the case of elections, cause the people’s less need to take part in them.
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The argument made by Berdahl et al. (2012) on the factors associated with the low voter turnout of aboriginals compared to non-aboriginals demonstrates a number of strengths and weaknesses. Starting with strengths, a low social status is likely to translate into the low level of education. Often, lack of education adversely influences the awareness of a group on such issues as their civic rights and the importance of exercising them. It is, thus, not surprising that with their poor education levels aboriginals do not see the need to take part in elections. Secondly, historical context is also a credible explanation for the aboriginals’ continued low voter turnout. Throughout history, the group has shown reluctance to take part in elections and this has translated into a culture of non-participation in elections that is hard to uproot. Even though initiatives and campaigns are ongoing to boost the group’s election participation, it is clear that such efforts may take time and commitment to yield significant fruits. With regard to weaknesses, the location of a group does not sufficiently explain its non-participation in elections. Even though this can be explained by a lack of access to the electoral process, throughout history, the electoral process has been increasingly taken closer to the aboriginals. Despite these efforts, their voter turnout has remained low. Similarly, it is not easy to understand how identity and kinship-based networks can influence such an important decision as taking part in elections or not. For instance, it is unlikely that a well-educated and knowledgeable individual in an urban setting will refuse to vote simply because his family far back in the village does not take part in the exercise. Consequently, one would suggest that, in addition to other efforts, extensive civic education would sensitize the aboriginals to take part in elections. Ignorance and lack of awareness are the key factors that would hinder any other efforts on yielding significant results. For instance, if even taking the electoral process to the doorstep of the aboriginals did not bring their understanding of the need to vote, they will most likely continue refusing it. Education is the ultimate tool for fighting the low voter turnout not just among the aboriginals in Canada, but also in any other social group.
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In conclusion, as seen in this paper, the Canadian aboriginals’ voter turnout has remained low for a long time in history. This could be associated with their low social standing compared to their non-aboriginal counterparts. Although there are currently ongoing efforts to improve the situation, much more needs to be done to abate a culture of non-participation in elections. For any democracy, it is extremely important that all social groups take part in elections, at least at a significant level of turnout.
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