You might recall the "Lessons From the Alberta Election" that Ray Pennings published here several months ago. In light of the upcoming election, I asked him to relate his conclusions to current events. This is the first of a series we intend to run over the next few months.
PS: The one I was struck by yesterday was the point you made after the Alberta election of Rachel Notley, that the electorate itself functions for most of them and most of the time in a state of disinterest and un-interest. They’re disinterested in the sense that they’re neutral. They’re not the partisans that you and I rub shoulders with, probably too much of our adult lives, nor are they as interested as keeners like you and I might be.
Bearing that in mind, how do we see an historic 11-week campaign playing into that reality of an electorate that even in a more propitious time, wouldn’t be interested?
RP: I think there are two things to keep in mind for those who don’t follow the ins and outs of so carefully.
First of all, election campaigns aren’t really about convincing anyone of anything. We talk about the air war, which is the advertising, and we talk about the ground game, which is identifying people who are either likely to vote for you or totally unlikely to vote for you. All of the parties have systems through which they are trying to identify, name by name, household by household, who is of a disposition that is likely to vote for them on the defined ballot question. They’re not trying to convince you, they’re trying to identify you and get things that will reinforce what you already think. That’s at the one level for the vast majority of the population.
Then there is that genuine undecided vote, and that group has been increasing. When I started in the political game some 25 or 30 years ago, we went into an election week with a very small percentage of the votes undecided. Today, estimates are that between 20 and 30 percent of voters make up their minds in the last weekend. They make their minds up, not by careful reading and engagement [but] based on impressions, which is why you’re seeing all of these [smear ads]. The parties are trying, through advertising, to put an impression in your head that is going to affect your emotions. When we listen to the news, we really look to have our biases confirmed. It’s not really an engaged argument or conversation, it’s actually about branding and voter identification.
Listen to the full conversation here: