Monday, March 05, 2012

The Rise Of The Uninterested

Susan Delacourt puts the robocall scandal into wider perspective. It has everything to do with "undecided" voters. The trouble is, Delacourt writes, "undecided" has become a synonym --an inaccurate synonym -- for "uninterested:"

In a 1971 interview with the Canadian Press, pollster Martin Goldfarb said that his art -- still new to this country then -- was useful only for appealing to the 10 per cent of the electorate who had the power to move the fortunes of the parties either way.

“I think our research could be enough in a close election to win or lose. If it’s tight, we make that much difference,” said Goldfarb, who went on to become the Liberals’ official party pollster for the next two decades.

Nowadays,  the political dynamics are far more volatile. The people who describe themselves as undecided, all the way up to voting day,  has hovered as high as  30 or even 40 per cent  during many of our recent elections. If [Harper adviser Patrick] Muttart is correct, these people may be not so much undecided as simply uninterested -- making it all the more difficult to motivate them toward the ballot box.

And of course, the corollary is that it’s all the easier to keep them away from the voting booths, too. The slightest inconvenience -- a changed polling location -- may be enough to  suppress the vote.

It does not take a great deal of effort to convince these folks not to vote -- and modern technology leverages even that small effort. But there is more to it than that. Delacourt writes that choosing one's leaders has become like shopping. And modern marketers know that self-induced simpletons prefer simple messages:

Voting has become more like shopping in modern Canada with each decade since the Second World War.  And robo-calls are the hard sell  in a political marketplace where it’s difficult to get people buying anything -- or even to enter the store, to continue the metaphor. 

The Conservatives, writes Delacourt, are the people who best understand -- and who best appeal to -- the uninterested. Other parties aren't far behind. That does not bode well for the future. If choosing a prime minister hinges on using the same techniques one uses to choose a breakfast cereal, the choice will be between Captain Crunch and Tony the Tiger.


Anonymous said...

"The slightest inconvenience -- a changed polling location -- may be enough to suppress the vote. "


One's individual vote has very little effect on the outcome of a national election. Given the effect it has--one vote out of millions--it is (at least according to some) amazing that anyone votes at all.

Knowing this, a slight inconvenience might make one less likely to vote. But going to the right polling station, after going to the polling station that "elections Canada" told you to vote at, and have it be the wrong one (or nonexistent) is more than a little inconvenient. Especially if you believe that Elections Canada was misdirecting you (in a nonpartisan, incompetent way).

Finding out the whole truth here is important. What happened? Who was behind what happened? Why did they do it?

If we do learn the truth (or at least, much more of the truth than we known now), then there is a potential silver lining in all of this. It's true that, as individuals, many of us have come to see our vote as unimportant in the grand scheme of things. Politicians still see our votes as important (especially if elections can be won by such small margins). But if it becomes clear that they only consider our votes important instrumentally, insofar as they treat our votes (and our very right to vote) as a mere means to an end, then perhaps, once we realize that, we will be more motivated to vote.

Inconvenience, meet Indignation.


Owen Gray said...

I agree with you heartily. There could be a silver lining in this. When voters see the contempt with which some politicians treat their vote -- which is contempt for democracy at its most basic level -- things may change.

That's why it's so important that we know exactly what happened.