Where’s the effort?
If voter participation rates have peaked and staggered backwards since the 1980s – exactly during the massive shift in our communications from traditional media to digital, (which is making everything so much better) – why aren’t things better? Why aren’t more citizens voting, exactly, given that voting is our means of control over the democratic management of our society?
The shift to digital was to improve, not hobble, our ability to talk to each other, and yet here we are, as far as ever from our goal of acting all together in selecting our next government.
Add to this counter-intuitive result of e-communications (that public messaging has gotten worse, often, not better) the historical claim that Western society’s advertising experts can sell anything to anyone. With super-whiz-bang communications technology in the hands of an accomplished culture of advertising and consensus-generating – why are fewer people getting the message, and going out to vote?
There has been a steady flow of public and private-source social campaigning for as long as media has existed. We remember the campaigns for seat belts, against smoking, for flu shots, for school bus caution, various health threats and emergencies, even campaigns against illiteracy and for going back to school, for safe hunting, safe boating, safe swimming and pool use – plenty of examples, and, by and large, they have been deemed successes.
So why not similarly vast campaigns to encourage voting? To promote an understanding of the value of voting and participating in civic life? To spend twenty-five minutes every four years at a polling station – all to keep our nation healthy?
In this era of rampant conspiracy theories ... let’s not go there. It is curious that Prime Minister Harper actually cut the budget and mandate of Elections Canada in terms of informing the public about elections and voting. He was accused then of attempting American-style voter-suppression. One of Mr Trudeau’s arguments for voting reform – for a form of proportional representation – was that it would stimulate voter numbers, since it would finally make every ballot count. And yet that proposal was dropped quickly.
This complaint is not partisan; judging from provincial campaigns, Canada’s corporate media would have buried voting reform in their own near-surface disposal site of negatives, eight storeys high.
All of this is hardly using the tools at our disposal to increase voter participation. So ... maybe voter-participation isn’t so important, after all. Maybe it’s just a way to make us feel we own a piece of our government. Or, maybe, actually, is it in someone’s interests that fewer people vote? No? So why aren’t there mass public campaigns, as effective as Don’t Drink & Drive – and all year long, since informed voting demands we pay a little attention to what’s going on in Ottawa between each promise-filled election?