A Post that Shows the Extent of my Disconnection from the Blogosphere of Late

So, a few weeks back, we did this election thing up this side of the border, and honestly, I was seriously shocked that Harper not only managed to get himself re-elected, he actually made gains. I wasn’t expecting some radical shift to the left, but with the financial crisis and whatnot, I really did figure conservatives were looking somewhat less shiny these days.

It was getting a look at the turnout numbers that really killed me. Over 40% of eligible voters didn’t even bother. Voter turnout just keeps getting lower and lower. Again, of course, this is two-week old news, but it’s taken me this long to have a thought about it.

My very unscientific methodology of “talking to people I see and hearing why they say they didn’t vote” has offered the following insight: for the most part, people flat-out admitted they couldn’t be bothered, or, in the midst of a stream of “I can’t believe Harper won”, they confessed that they actually forgot to vote. I hate to do the “compare and contrast” thing as much as the next Canadian who always falls into the inevitable “compare and contrast” pattern of thinking about Canada, but I just can’t imagine, three weeks from now, a substantial portion of the eligible American electorate will be suggesting that they forgot it was election day and hadn’t already scheduled in the time to go and check off a ballot. I’ve written about this Canadian political boredom before, but I’m still shocked at how deep it runs right now.

And I wonder how much it has to do with the fervour and excitement and tension and grandiose media narratives that have been in the air regarding the American election since long before the Canadian election was a twinkle in Mr. Harper’s eye. Riding the bus, all I hear about is Obama, Palin, McCain. As someone people know to be relatively up on that feminist thing, everyone is asking me what I think of Sarah Palin (which…shit, loaded question). People really believe something big is happening…over there. Big things don’t happen here, and again, if they’re not bigger, more global, with more dollar signs attached to them, well then they can’t possibly be important and can’t possibly affect anything, really. Except of course, seeing as the majority of us are not also American citizens, we have absolutely no say in what happens over there, and all these sweeping decisions are going to be made without anybody bothering to ask us anyway. I suspect, after two years of watching this US election play out from what really are great box seats, knowing that we’re always going to remain spectators, and frankly being relatively comfortable in that warm, cushy box as it is, we’ve pretty much signed over our political will in exchange for some opera glasses.

People who never think about politics beyond how much they pay in taxes or whether they’re going to get some immediate, tangible benefit from the government they elect tend to think of fixed election cycles as a good thing. My again very unscientific analysis figures this comes first of all from the fact that the Americans do it that way (and we’ve bought that exceptionalism line nearly as much as they have) and second from the sense that it gives the government too much control over when they hold the election, because they can spin it for when it’s going to be best for them. To some extent, that is what Harper did here, and successfully. But for the most part, if you have fixed election cycles, what politicians get to do is hold the politics hostage to the cycle, rather than vice versa, and choose just not to ask certain kinds of questions because it’s an election year. Given my growing impression that we’re in a perpetual “election year” just over those Falls down the QEW…well, I have to run off to work before I can think of anything deeper than…sigh.

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4 thoughts on “A Post that Shows the Extent of my Disconnection from the Blogosphere of Late

  1. hysperia says:

    Here’s my not-very-scientific explanation of the low voter turn-out:

    When a whole bunch of people do (or don’t do) the same thing at the same time, there’s usually a reason that goes beyond individual character flaws. As in, how likely is it that 60% of Canadians are just bored or apathetic? Possible, but it strikes me as unlikely. Here’s my rose-coloured glasses way of understanding the electorate: they feel disempowered. They don’t think it really matters who they vote for – they think the results will be so similar as to not make a difference. They really don’t like ANY of the people who are running. They think all the real action is in the US anyway – apparently, we just tag along for the ride, fearing we might offend them if we disagree. Stephen Harper’s practice of hiding from the media and making his Cabinet Ministers do the same has just removed politics from the national consciousness – far from being drugged into confusion by too much political news, we’ve been lulled into unconsciousness by the lack of it. Democracy ain’t workin’ anyway and we don’t feel like we can do anything about that by voting. We’re terrified by the fact that we lost our jobs, our pensions and our savings in the economic crisis and we’re too busy worrying to vote. We’re disaffected. Alienated. Disempowered. And there’s nobody who is really appealing to our imaginations, our sense of justice and fairness, who can turn us on and involve us in organizing for change. Politicians like Tommy Douglas are dead. No one has replaced him. Well, my rose-coloured glasses broke!

    You get the idea. Probably more about me than the average voter. I didn’t vote. Jim Flaherty was running in my riding and I knew he’d win. He did, by a two to one margin. I was flying from Vancouver to Toronto that night and I just didn’t go out of my way to find a way to vote. I didn’t think it would matter. It didn’t.

    I blame the politicians. Not the voters.

    GREAT to see you here. How ya doin’?

  2. purtek says:

    Hi hysperia! I’s good, just very, very tired. Having realized that blogging was so good for me, I’m trying to post a thought or two on occasion, however.

    I totally agree that ‘disempowerment’ is a good word to be using here. I keep thinking of that when I think of the role of the American election, but you make a really good point about the way the Harper government has consciously enhanced that disconnect. I wasn’t totally in the “those damn kids and their not-votin’ ways” kind of blaming, but I hadn’t gotten quite so far as assigning blame to the politicians. I was sort of seeing it as this causeless force. Probably because my rose coloured glasses, in many ways, still fit perfectly, thank you very much.

    By the way, to be fair, I’m also living in a riding that wasn’t even a little bit contested (fortunately, it’s a slam-dunk NDP riding, which makes me a slightly happier little camper), so some of the people I’m hearing may very well have been thinking along the same lines as you were about the relevance of their vote.

  3. I’m not Canadian, but I can share that at least *I* have a different reason to abstain from voting. I do it because:

    –I don’t believe in the American form of govt.
    –I really don’t believe in govt at all (this is a complex position, so let’s just gloss over it for now)
    –There is so much evidence that not every vote counts. In fact, I talked to a woman who trained to work the polls, and she was told flat out – not all the provisional ballots would be counted. I mean, they’re not even lying about it anymore.
    –Because of the way our votes are counted, inasmuch as they’re counted, I really couldn’t affect the vote. A Californian’s vote counts less than any other American’s. My district was going to go blue, blue, blue on everything, period, whether I voted or not. And it did, even though some measures didn’t pass.

    If we had a straight popular vote, I might change my tune. Do you guys have that?

  4. purtek says:

    Short answer to the last question? No, we really don’t have that. There was a referendum along with the last Ontario election to move towards a more proportional model of representation, but it got shot down mostly because nobody had a damn clue what it meant (it was extremely poorly presented to the electorate).

    And I can respect the idea of abstaining from voting for exactly the reasons you suggest. I did, in fact, talk to a few people who (like yourself) are extremely politically active and committed, but who made the same choice that you do. I agree with it on some levels, but vote anyway, personally. This post is to some extent ignoring those intelligent positions and focusing only on what I think are the more “mainstream” ones…the disillusionment and feeling of disempowerment is shared, but in this case, there’s no associated alternative attempt to make change. Just tacit acceptance of the status quo political reality, which is exactly what Harper’s government is going for. The fewer people who give a shit, the easier it is to govern.

    It’s another reason Obama matters – he makes people give a shit.

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