Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Discuss: Re-Engaging The Voters (Part 2)

All right, here's the second half of the "Re-engaging the Voters" thread, perhaps more appropriately called "getting the voters to re-engage".

In complete contrast to yesterday's post, for today's discussion we're going to work under the assumption that political parties and the system itself are doing everything they can to engage the voters, and they're just not going for it. The problem, to whit, lies with the voters themselves (not my position, for the record).

What can we do, as politically-minded people and members of parties, to make the voters WANT to engage with the process? What can we offer them to make it worth their while, in their opinions, to stay engaged? Mandatory voting? Tax credits with a "voter's receipt"? I'm opposed to both ideas, but I'm sure there are plenty more - other countries have dealt with these issues - what did THEY do?

Discuss... now. :)


Anonymous said...

If they don't vote, we graft a zipper to their mouth, which remains zipped until the next election.

Kirk Schmidt said...

As you and I had discussed once, ES, I think as politically-minded people we can often be myopic about the whole issue; Since we hold voting as such a fundamental responsibility, it's very difficult to reasonably put ourselves into the shoes of those that don't and find solutions.

One only needs to look at a March 2003 study published by EC, Explaining the Turnout Decline in Canadian Federal Elections: A New Survey of Non-voters, to grasp how different voters and non-voters' views are - I urge you to specifically look at, say, #2 - Reasons for Not Voting, and #5 - Civic Duty, to understand how different we see things. For example - 55.9% of voters in 2000 saw voting as an essential civic duty, whereas only 19.2% of non-voters did. 10% said it wasn't an important civic duty at all... Then you look at reasons for not voting... 15% think it's meaningless? 23% simply have apathy or lack of interest.

I don't think it's about changing the voter per se, but about changing the perception of what that vote does.

In the last few pages of Chapter 4 of Manning's book, "Think Big," he describes the situation in 1993: "In the end, we lose all three seats in Edmonton by a total (after recounts) of 329 votes... In this case, the votes of a few hundred people would have made the difference between a federalist and separatist Official Opposition in the Canadian Parliament." Are stories like this enough to motivate people? Maybe in swing areas, but what about 'safe' areas?

Last night I met my campaign manager for coffee, and among other things, we talked a bit about declining voter turnout. He mentioned that maybe we need to try to find ways of getting communities hyped up about having 'the largest voter turnout in Canada' - almost a competition (obviously subject to all sorts of electoral legislation) - but the thought exercise was there; Can we motivate communities, instead of mere individuals, to vote in larger numbers? Does the spirit of competition merely do the same theoretical thing as mandatory voting, where many people vote because they have to, but do not necessarily research that vote?

Some things to think about...

son of gaia said...

First, a longish observation then a question for you to ponder - ok?

There are two principle models of what it means to help others.

In the first model, someone comes to us and asks for assistance with a problem, and we do what we can to assist them to resolve their problem - allowing them to define the problem themselves and also what an acceptable resolution of the problem would be, for them.

In the second model, people with specialized knowledge and expertise in some field define what they perceive to be "a problem" in people's lives and devise various means to acheive resolution of the perceived problem in a manner which is acceptable to the helpers. If the people whom the helpers perceive to possess this problem don't see their situation as being a "problem" for them, the helpers devise means and measures to ensure that these people will come to perceive their situation as a problem, just as the helpers do.

The first model is the basis of all true charity, whether between individuals or between governments/non-profit organizations and individuals.

The second model is the basis of all social engineering, nanny-statism and interventionist foreign policy. Its pretence to being charitable is false and fraudulent, as it frequently has ulterior motivations.

Question: if the people who are "not engaged" don't feel that is a problem for them - if they haven't come to you complaining about it and asking for help - why would you presume that their unengagedness needs to be "fixed"?

Kirk Schmidt said...

@son of gaia:

I appreciate your point, but I do think it ignores a lot of grey in between your extremes. There are plenty of situations where people have needed help but not known it and not asked. In fact, by the logic you have given, I would even go so far as to argue that most common knowledge of health issues comes from your second scenario, and moves to the first as people better understand negative effects.

At what point do things go from being interventionist to charity? Does doing research into the harmful effects of something (say, smoking) go into the interventionist category, or the charity? Does researching psychological conditions count as interventionist (I would argue that many people would have trouble stepping outside their perception of reality and seeing whether or not they have a psychological condition or not)? I have known people who don't think it's a problem to drink and drive, for example.

Obviously these are examples where it has the potential to affect other people in negative ways, sometimes physical, sometimes emotional. So do we measure whether we *have* to intervene based on its negative externalities? Are there such negative externalities on democracy by the lack of voting?

So the question that you basically have brought up is: Is not voting, indeed, a problem? And, at what point are we being too interventionist?

I, for one, am completely against mandatory voting, but I do believe in explaining the importance of one's vote.

If we take a passive stance, offering to help people who want to know more about the system, and who seek to simply "know more" before they vote, that's good for the people who tink voting's important but have other reasons not to vote (say, not enough knowledge about the candidates).

If we believe that sharing our belief of the importance of voting with apathetic voters, perhaps through direct mail campaigns, phone campaigns, etc., are we being too interventionist? I would say, no, so long as it doesn't become some sort of crusade. Just like my workplace (a charity) seeks to educate people about positive health effects of fruits and vegetables, I seek to help people understand why I think it's important to vote. But I am in no way going to force them to the polls.

Is there an ulterior motive to all of this? If you look at ES and I, you might say, "Yes," since we both are candidates (or intend to be, albeit on different political stages and with different parties [or lack thereof]). But I would argue that if I were to never become a candidate, I still would believe in this cause.

As I explained to ES before as well, I think part of the problem with groups trying to get people to vote is that they try to appear "neutral", which only fuels the fire of mistrust. I think the solution is pan-partisan - everyone who is deeply engrained in a party stands together to say we think people should get out and vote. That way, regardless if people have ulterior motives or not, because they are identified with a party, they have laid their partisanship on the table - but because Tories, Grits, Dippers, Greens, etc., stand together, it sends a message that, despite any ulterior motives, we all believe in this cause.

Enlightened Savage said...

Son of Gaia: I'll concede your point. However, I think that it's folly for anyone to suggest that ALL people who didn't vote did so out of apathy, or out of honest-to-goodness disinterest.

A great many people to whom I spoke immediately after the provincial election indicated a desire to affect change, to exercise their franchise and exert some control over their own governance - but didn't know how to go about doing that. They weren't registered at their current address, didn't know where to go for voting information, didn't know where the parties stood, and didn't know how the system worked. Many others, who DID know those things, thought their vote wouldn't matter, given the popularity of the ruling party.

Now, by no means am I suggesting that ALL of the 50+% of registered voters who didn't cast a ballot in March fall into these groups... but certainly, we can at least examine what can be done to help those who WANT the help?

And, for those who don't... if it's genuine disinterest, I can completely accept that our help is neither wanted nor needed. If it's frustration stemming from a lack of understanding or a sense of powerlessness, though, I'd argue our society would be better served in making the resources available to help those people exercise their franchise.

Not suggesting we force the horse to drink... but we can at least make it easier to find the water.

son of gaia said...

Kirk - thank you for your thoughtful response. It was interesting that you raised the subject of health interventions and the activity of charitable/non-profit organizations - because that is what my "models of helping" was originally a response to...

The point, really, is one of a sense of ownership with respect to whatever the issue is - in this case, being involved in the political process. I've tried to point out before, (and got a thunderous absence of response), that unless you can stimulate a sense of "owning" the issue in the people you hope to reach, you risk alienating them even further:

I don't know what the solution is, but I can tell you that in my lifetime I've gone from being someone who was passionate about being involved to someone who just doesn't see the point anymore. I've voted in every election I had the opportunity to since I turned 18, I've worked on campaigns, I've been a member in two parties (currently not a member of any), and an issues activist during campaigns. At this point, I'm seriously considering never bothering to vote again. Why? Because I've come to believe that, regardless of what person or party you vote for, control over public policy will ultimately be determined by the lobbying activity of corporate & non-profit entities which occurs outside of the electoral process. I'm thoroughly disillusioned, now, and ready to give up.

son of gaia said...

Let me try to offer a practical and current example: the Human Rights Commissions/Tribunals controversy. First, filter out the idjits who think they have a "right to hate" and see an opportunity to knock down an obstacle to their going around being a loudmouthed bigot - this isn't about them. There is genuine outrage, spanning the ideological spectrum, over what people perceive to be a cabal of Human Rights technocrats running amok - to the point of violating their own principles on a routine basis, in pursuit of "winning" some abstract goal. I've been an anti-racist activist in Edmonton for decades but even I feel outraged by some of what has been revealed about the way these commissions and tribunals have been run.

The federal government, and all the parties that sit in it, need to take this very seriously. People know that there is pressure for a meaningful review of the HRCs coming from all parties and their voter supporters. If they fail to demonstrate that they are in control, if there is no meaningful review, thousands more people from across the ideological spectrum will conclude that entrenched cabals of unelected technocrats and their non-profit organization lobbyists cannot be overcome even by elected representatives - that, in fact, everyone we vote for ultimately becomes a puppet on their strings and that voting is itself a futile gesture.