Distemper of our times: a polling report
On Monday night, the Canada 2020 organization held a gathering at the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa, featuring three major national pollsters: Bruce Anderson of Harris-Decima, Nik Nanos and Frank Graves. They pulled in a big crowd, and rewarded them with tons of fuel for thought.
Anderson had a neat, new survey on whether a Tea Party could thrive here in Canada. I've written a story about it here. But I've also thought it worth sharing with you some words from Nanos, about what he calls "disturbing forces" under the numbers all the pollsters are gathering about the current state of politics in Canada. It's long, but really worth a read.
Now what I’d like to do is shift gears into what I consider at least the powerful, dangerous forces that we’re going to have to deal with and they’re not ideological. They have to deal with what I consider emerging trends that are kind of coming into clarity in the public mind.
Those are the forces of disaggregation, the forces of discontent and the forces of dilution ... of power.
And I think these three forces actually represent what’s really happening and all the numbers that we’re seeing are simply symptoms of these forces at work.
Now first: the forces of disaggregation. Think of how we consume media now. Right? In the past, we’d be exposed to a diversity of views. Think of it this way, with the increasing number of Canadians that get their news online, they’re getting mass customization of their news, a variation of drinking their own bathwater, listening to views that are their own. How can you compare that to a model where, every morning, Canadians open up their newspaper and not only do they read the stories that they’re interested in, but they are exposed to other views, other information, other pieces of data on a wide diversity of issues? How do we rally Canadians for a great national cause when we all have our own customized news feeds? What does that mean for political discourse, when we’re at war, when we’re at peace, when we’re in battles. I would say that our ability and the ability of politicians to coalesce and find solutions, to kind of take up a national cause, has actually been diminished by what I consider the forces of disaggregation. And it’s made it more difficult for other parties to deal with this.
When we look at other parliamentary democracies, similar to our own, they’re all having minority governments -- the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada. What do you think is going on there? They’re dealing with the same forces that we’re dealing with.
And another thing to put on the table. I talked about one possible scenario that could be disruptive to Canada, if a particular federal party was in power and something happened provincially.
You know the last time Canada fought the referendum and separatists, that was before the Internet. Right? The next battle will take place on the Internet and it will be very different than the past. It will be very difficult for national voices, newspapers, television, radio, to get their message out. And it won’t be pleasant, in my view.
Now in terms of the forces of political discontent, I think there’s a fundamental disconnect between the everyday lives of Canadians, and democracy. That they look at what happens in the House of Commons and they don’t see themselves. And the other thing is that our democracy, the House of Commons for example, is losing its exclusivity as an intermediary of democratic dialogue. That the Internet is now a challenger. That for young Canadians, who are not happy with what they see at Question Period, what they see our politicians do, or how they see parties operate, that they can engage in democratic activism without being a member of a political party, without watching what happens in Question Period, but by participating in democracy on the Internet. And a lot of this is fed by what I’ll say is the discontent they see in our traditional democratic structure.
The other manifestation of the forces of discontent is what I would call “vote suppression strategies.” You know what? If you can’t persuade someone to vote for you, the next best thing is to try to keep them home. Right? We’ve seen Conservatives being very effective, at not necessarily trying to persuade or attract voters, but to actually repel voters from their challengers. And I think the last election was a case in point. About 875,000 fewer voters among the Liberals -- the Conservatives were very effective , not necessarily at persuading people to vote Conservative, but at repelling people, from the that time Liberal choice.
And in terms of what I’ll say the third force, which is the force of political dilution, this is a good kind of segueway to talk about the Green Party. And I think the Green Party and also the New Democrats have a fixation on being a national party. Well, the thing is that they are not a national party. They do run candidates in each riding across the country, but I think the challenge for the Green Party is getting over that first member, electing that first member is actually going to be quite difficult. .... But I can’t see a major breakthrough for the Green Party, not because there isn’t appetite or interest in voting Green, but just because there aren’t what I’ll say boots on the ground, so to speak, in terms of organization.
So to wrap up: expect political instability and turbulence. I believe we’re at a risky but unintended place in our democracy -- that the forces of disaggregation are undermining our national ethos and capacity, that the forces of discontent are undermining the relevance of party politics and party leaders to Canadians, and the forces of dilution are undermining our political parties.