Lucas Sarac has never been a Conservative voter, but moving out to live on his own has helped turn him into one.
The 22-year old Edmonton native says the rising cost of living has given him a “loss of faith in the Liberal party.”
“Sometimes I’m shocked at the price I see at checkout,” Sarac says of the rising grocery store costs that have become an all-too-familiar reality for Canadians.
Sarac thinks a Conservative government will make a better go of things. He’s not alone.
If the election were held today, the Conservatives would more than likely win a majority. Not only is the party led by Pierre Poilievre consistently leading in polls, but it’s also finding strong support from young Canadians – a demographic that typically aligns with the political left.
A September poll by Abacus found that the Conservatives had the support of 37% of 18- to 29-year old Canadians, with only 26% for the NDP and 22% for the Liberals.
According to one pollster, the average age of Conservative voters is now lower than for Liberals.
Comparatively, polling during the 2021 election showed the Conservatives trailing the NDP and Liberals among this demographic.
A key difference this time around is a leader who knows how to communicate with youth, a professor and veteran Conservative says.
Ian Brodie, a University of Calgary political science professor and former chief of staff to Stephen Harper, says Poilievre has been able to use social media “to figure out how to speak to younger voters about issues that do concern their future in a very direct way.”
Nowhere has this been truer than with housing. In one much-shared video, Poilievre discusses the plight of Canadian youth working two or three jobs and still unable to afford a home.
The Conservative party’s communications director, Sarah Fischer, said Poilievre’s resonance with youth is simply because that demographic is bearing the brunt of the status quo.
“(Poilievre’s) common sense message of freedom, axing the carbon tax and getting government spending under control to bring down inflation and make life more affordable is speaking to many young adults who are concerned about their future after eight years of Justin Trudeau,” Fischer said.
This is, perhaps, why housing has become such a central part of his campaign.
During Trudeau’s time in office, the average increase in cost across all types of homes is 74.82%, as of September 2023. The average mortgage payment, Poilievre says, has gone from $1,400 to $3,500, while rents have increased 93%.
According to one report, you need an income of about $180,075 to buy a home. To put that in context, the top 10% of earners has an average income of $174,000-$176,000.
These figures are of particular concern to young voters, for whom home ownership is increasingly out of reach.
“You can get yourself a good degree, get yourself a good job. You can do everything you’re supposed to do, and still face a 20 to 25 year saving period to get a house,” Brodie says, calling housing an “issue that touches people directly in a way that the Liberals haven’t figured out how to respond to yet.”
The medium is, of course, just as important as the message. The Poilievre’s Conservatives have made a point of reaching voters – in particular young voters – on social media platforms.
Social media is where Sarac gets the majority of news. He admits he’s seen a fair bit of news on Liberal scandals, but it was following the Freedom Convoy in 2022 – and the government’s invocation of the Emergencies Act – that pushed him to sour on the Liberals.
As the polling suggests, Sarac isn’t alone.
“Young Canadians are deserting the Liberals,” Nanos Research founder Nik Nanos says. Nanos points out that this bleed is benefiting both the Conservatives and the NDP, though this isn’t bad news for the Tories.
The Conservatives are “always hoping for a good NDP election result and a bad Liberal result,” Brodie says, noting a split of the left-of-centre vote can help “put the Conservatives over.”
Many of the issues moving young Canadians’ political preferences affect all demographics – notably crime.
Sarac has had to change the way he interacts with his own community of Edmonton
“I’m not walking down any streets alone in a place that I don’t feel super safe in,” he says.
A poll last year found 60% of Canadians believe there has been more crime in their communities over the last five years.
While police-reported crime rates have only risen 8.32% between 2015 and 2022, violent crime has risen 23.51%.
Poilievre’s messaging has put the blame for this at the feet of the Liberal government, who Poilievre says embraces policies that allow the same repeat violent offenders loose on our streets to terrorize innocent people.”
The Conservatives proposed a bill to “address the small number of repeat offenders who commit a disproportionately large percentage of violent crimes.”
While polls are no doubt bolstering the confidence of Poilievre and the Conservatives, Brodie offers up the obligatory caution about reading them.
If polls in Alberta’s most recent election were accurate, “the NDP would have won a smashing victory,” he says.