The chill has arrived. I can feel it as a cool wind reminds my skin basking in the brilliant sun that I should take a sweater. I can smell it in the drying, curling leaves. I can see it in the stark contrast between sun and shade as the sun’s angle becomes more acute, forecasting shorter days and a seemingly faster spinning of the planet. How Canadian of me to open by talking about the weather, n’est-ce pas? (Nothing but sun in the forecast for the week ahead; what a gorgeous start to fall!)
Also in the air this fall is the federal election ̶ one of the most interesting and perhaps most important in a generation given that three viable national parties could mean a vote splitting and the formation of a government that is the choice of barely one third of voters.
Clearly, I am interested in the politics of my country, having chosen this topic for my first post. I am also a proud and concerned Canadian. But even if my Canadian citizenship weren’t a key aspect of my identity, I believe it is important to stay informed on issues that affect my country, province, city, and community and the people I share these with. With more people using social media to get their news, there is an opportunity for more people to get engaged in the democratic process and there is an opportunity for social media to make it easier for people to be better informed. I also think it is important for people to make an informed decision and participate in our democratic process by voting. There are many additional ways citizens can, should and do participate in their democracy, but I believe that voting is a potent and meaningful one. We have the government and the democracy that we deserve. (Not sure who to attribute that quote to but it is apt.) There is much at stake, as evidenced by incidents in the past of voter suppression and fraudulent activities which Elections Canada is warning people to be wary of now. This election is a dramatic opportunity to show the power and importance of the vote because the competition is so close and the options as stark as sunlight and shadow.
Since before the election was called on August 2, many Canadians who were not amenable to the continuation of the right-wing Conservative Harper government were considering voting strategically, i.e. ABC or Anything But Conservative.
This approach is valid and relevant will become that much more concrete as election day looms; especially in swing ridings where the Conservative candidate appeals to only a third or less of voters and there are many.
People will be swayed by the fear of instability and the desire to avoid a short-lived minority government whose defeat would lead to another expensive, disruptive election a few of months down the road. Many people are just starting to pay attention, two weeks before election day, to lean towards the party they think can lead a stable government and they can be comfortable with. I expect some people will vote conservative for this reason, but I think many others will vote strategically for the candidate most likely to win over the Conservative candidate. Before the election was called it appeared the majority of Canadians wanted a coalition NDP-Liberal- government.
But much can change in an election campaign, as is often said; especially this one being the longest campaign in Canadian history.
Riding by riding polls will be of huge interest for many as they trying to decide on their vote. Sadly though, accurate polling information may be hard to acquire. There are already many polls and surveys
and there will no doubt be more, along with nifty polling prediction and reporting apps.
But the polls have to be taken with a grain of salt, not because the pollsters lack expertise or ethics, but because polling is getting harder and harder to do accurately. Understandably, people are not necessarily willing to disclose their voting intentions to phone pollsters, and survey samples are increasingly less representative given the move away, especially with younger voters, from landlines (associated with an address in an electoral district) to mobile phones.
Social media has a huge role to play in this election on many levels. It is the first time I have followed candidates and parties on Twitter, for example, and the first time I have sussed out so much of my information from social media. I have found it interesting to be able to quickly and easily find information from the sources I respect and to find avenues to dig deeper and look wider, to sign a petition, for example, or share an item or link with my Facebook or Twitter followers, who are neither homogenous nor numerous. Of course I must be careful not to spend too much time following my curiosity too far through the rabbit warren of links and shares; and even more importantly, I know I run the risk of reading and conversing too much within my own echo bubble of preferred interests and like-minded thinkers/spouters. Academics have rightfully fretted that the rise of social media could increase fragmentation and reduce social coherence in Western democracies. The situation, as they say, is fluid.
I do try to ensure some kind of breadth and balance in my news intake by following professional media organizations such as the Huffington Post, Maclean’s, CBC Radio and The Globe and Mail which are committed to providing fair and unbiased reporting. The jury is still out on whether or not social media is improving either the quality or the quantity of people’s engagement in the process or their understanding of the issues but obviously social media`s channels are full and frenetic with political communications and playing a big role in this election; a role that we may only be able to gauge properly after October 19.
What about you? Has social media made you any more interested in this election campaign that previous ones? Have you gotten more of your news and information via social media lately than in the past? Do you feel any better informed about federal issues that in the past or even earlier in the campaign? Do you plan to vote? Strategically? If you’ve already decided, you can vote in the advance polls over the Thanksgiving weekend.