Media release

Toronto’s democracy deficit can be set right, says study

Published on 02/10/2014

Toronto has a poor record of voter participation in civic elections. In 42 of Toronto’s 44 wards less than half of all eligible voters cast a ballot in recent city elections. The turnout improves only when elections are hotly contested. While areas with lower voter turnout typically have high concentrations of immigrant and visible minority populations, there is minimal correlation between voting and an area’s average income, and no correlation to an area’s proportion of tenants and homeowners.

These are some of the key findings of Who votes in Toronto municipal elections?, the first such study on voter turnout over the past three civic elections in 2003, 2006 and 2010. Conducted for Maytree by Ryerson University Professor Myer Siemiatycki and geographic analyst Sean Marshall, the study explored the connection between municipal voting behaviour and some of Toronto’s prime demographic characteristics like immigrant status, visible minority identity, income and home ownership.

“The democracy deficit the study exposes needs to be taken seriously as it threatens the very legitimacy of government closest to the people,” said Professor Siemiatycki. “If all eligible voters are not equally drawn to the ballot box, it would adversely affect the priorities set by elected officials. Low voter participation also reflects the broader dynamics of social exclusion and alienation felt by some voters.”

While the poor turnout is cause for concern, the study shows there is nothing inevitable or pre-determined about who votes in municipal elections. Thorncliffe Park is a prime example of what can be achieved if a more diverse political leadership results in deeper community engagement. With a large concentration of immigrants and visible minorities, this inner city area is one of Toronto’s highest voting neighbourhoods.

To overcome low turnouts, the study recommends more effort and creativity to build a civic culture that promotes greater engagement. Public education and electoral reform could make municipal voting more user-friendly. As there is room for experimentation, non-partisan initiatives large and small need to be taken by municipal institutions, political candidates, community organizations and individuals.

Download the report

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About Myer Siemiatycki
Myer Siemiatycki is Professor in the Department of Politics and Public Administration at Ryerson University. He is the past Founding Director of Ryerson’s Graduate Program in Immigration and Settlement Studies, and is Affiliated Faculty with the Ryerson Centre for Immigration and Settlement.