Almost anyone who made it by the NPA and Vision Vancouver's parties on election night would have been struck by the different demographic in the two rooms. At the NPA party, it was mainly middle-aged people. Those who were young were dressed in formal or smart business attire that was more typical of people twice their age.
Meanwhile, at the Wall Centre, dreadlocks, T-shirts, jeans and hoodies mingled with suits and neckties. Party organizers claimed a thousand people came to the party and every second person looked like they were under 35. There was a vibrant energy at the headquarters that came from the strong presence of young people, that traditionally apolitical and disengaged demographic that purportedly never shows up to vote.
Back in October, Barb Justason of the polling group Justason Market Intelligence observed that “Robertson and Vision support is skewed younger and NPA and Anton appeal to traditional voters, 45 and older.” This was viewed by some as a disadvantage for the party, since B.C. youth aged 18 – 24 traditionally have low voter turnouts.
But judging from the crowd at the Vision party, youth volunteers and voters did turn out this year, and they got others out to vote as well.
“We are blessed with a really young party with a young crew. It's always a challenge to get youth involved," Ian Baillie, Vision's executive director said, "but once you do engage them, they become very active members of the political movement.”
Baillie said policies the Mayor focused on resonate with younger voters.
“The real big issues of the administration were homelessness and affordable housing. Affordable housing affects people under 35,” he said.
The NPA ads, which took shots at the Mayor's chicken coops and wheat fields, may have actually worked in reverse, activating Robertson's sustainability-minded supporters into volunteering during the campaign.
“The Greenest City Action Plan, urban agriculture ... the NPA mocked these, but there are a ton of people in Vancouver who feel passionate about these issues, and many of them are younger,” Baillie said.
Councillor Kerry Jang, surrounded by supporters
Filmmaker Mark Vonesch got a hundred of his friends and acquaintances to volunteer for Vision Vancouver during the election campaign.
“An awakening is happening right now that Gregor has been able to capture in inspiring young people,” the filmmaker said. “I signed up a hundred volunteers for the campaign and a lot of them were under 35.”
Most young people he approached were “pretty aware of what was happening based on the last three years” and needed little explanation why they should volunteer for the party, he said.
Robertson had an appeal for younger voters because he was focused on issues such as the environment that would affect youth long after he would have left office, Vonesch added.
“On the environment...He's a politician who's looking at the future with a long-term view,not just a three-year plan, but a 100-year, 200-year plan."
Vision board director Opreet Kang said that the party made an effort to make the work environment welcoming of younger people, and to give them greater responsibility within the organization.
“You see young people not just volunteering but in higher positions,” she said. “It's also our working style as well...we had an environment that's conducive to young people. Like having an open kitchen space, realizing the need for mental health breaks and having fun. Just things like walking by and giving high fives,” she said.
While twitter and Facebook helped, it was more the appeal of candidates themselves who attracted youth to the party, Baillie said. Many of the candidates Vision put forward were young themselves.
“It comes down to having people you can relate to,” he said.