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.