Election apathy…and renewal?

It’s been humbling to see the hunger – the pure courage – citizens living under repressive regimes have demonstrated to claim the basic right of free and fair elections.

And it’s troubling to contrast that passion with the stilted complacency which sometimes develops, where liberty is taken for granted.

I happen to be a dual-national, entitled to vote in the U.S. and Canada. The U.S. campaign cycle seems way too long and far too expensive. But it can generate a sense of excitement, at least in recent elections. Something that seems largely missing in Canada of late.

I keep wondering when and how might that change? Why should Egyptians have all the passion, when we enjoy those rights practically on a silver platter?

“The media” is often part of the problem, treating elections like horse races or simply repeating whatever the candidates say. Regular folks reasonably want to know: Can’t reporters ask harder questions?  Blow the whistle on distortions or fabrications? Highlight issues that matter, not just the ones that look sexy or scandalous?

Canada has a Federal election May 2nd, so there isn’t much time to generate more meaningful, dynamic electoral participation between now and then. But there’s a real need for that.

The Toronto Star’s Carol Goar tackles this topic in her op-ed “How Canadian voters became election pawns”

It’s a good read, for either side of the border. First, a few details of the problem here in Canada:

…pollster Frank Graves of EKOS Research Associates provided a snapshot of the electorate now, using a survey of 984 randomly selected Canadians, conducted March 15-17.

• Sixty per cent of Canadians believe policy decisions should be based on reasoned debate. Seventeen per cent think they are.

• Sixty-nine per cent agree with the statement: “It really bothers me that hard scientific evidence isn’t shaping public policy to the degree that it should.” Fifty-five per cent think the situation is self-correcting.

• Seventy-five per cent think average citizens should have the most influence in defining Canadian policy. Twenty-six per cent think they do.

His conclusion: A “vivid gap” exists between the public view of how things should work and what actually happens.

I’d guess a survey of U.S. voters might come back with similar dispiriting results. The column goes on to postulate how that could change.

Once Canadians grasp the power they have at their fingertips through the social media, they’ll start linking up with people who share their goals, building coalitions, spreading their message and demanding change, the optimists predicted.

As a Luddite (who doesn’t have a smart phone, Twitter or Facebook account) I’m not crazy about putting all hope in social media. But, however it comes about, I do want to see more engagement, more passion – more appreciation for the blessed, enviable right to shape our own destiny. And I don’t see much of that on display under the status quo.

We can do better. We have to do better. Democracy is too precious to take for granted. Or to be left to politicians and reporters!

Do you have ideas about how to make democracy more meaningful or press coverage more constructive?

Is social media the only new path forward?

What else might help?

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9 Comments on “Election apathy…and renewal?”

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  1. Walker says:

    This discussion reminds me of a comment to a recent Krugman column in the NY Times about the latest NYS budget proposals. The commenter was asking, given the way Democrats like Cuomo and Obama are behaving lately, what’s the point in voting, if there’s little difference between the two parties.

    Anyone have a good answer?

    link to the column’s comments: http://community.nytimes.com/comments/www.nytimes.com/2011/03/28/nyregion/28budget.html?sort=recommended

  2. Jim Bullard says:

    I think that we need to get the corporate and special interest money out of elections. We are in an age where elections are scripted like advertising campaigns to guide the voters to a desired outcome. Regardless of who wins, candidates are then beholden to the interests who provide the money that gets them elected. Especially now that corporations can give unlimited money we are headed rapidly to a full blown plutocracy, rule of the rich, by the rich, for the rich. Unless and until we can return power to the people the average voter will remain dispirited because they know it doesn’t matter who they vote for. Both sides have been bought.

  3. Bret4207 says:

    Lucy, the responsibility to “do better” rests with the individual, not the press and certainly not with the politicians. Until we demand better from them both we’ll be stuck with the status quo. Most folks can’t be bothered to look beyond the news story, or more likely the headline.

  4. Pete Klein says:

    I have always found it interesting that if you want to work for the government, you need to take a test.
    But if the work you want to do is to be elected to some governmental position, all you need to do is to be a citizen of a certain age and have the money to run for the office.
    Isn’t it wonderful to know that any jerk can get elected but you need to pass a test to push a broom.
    Is this a wonderful country or what?

  5. PNElba says:

    The press doesn’t ask hard questions anymore because the politician will simply no longer cooperate with journalists that demand actual answers to hard questions.

    Jim has got it right. Why should politicians care what their constituents think when the money to get re-elected comes from large, wealthy, special interest groups?

  6. newt says:

    Part of the apathy is because for most of us, compared to Middle Eastern governments ours
    1. do meet our basic needs, are not tyranical or hopelessly corrupt, and are to some degree accountable.
    2. to the extent that ours fail our expectations, these failures seem to be very difficult to correct after years of trying.

    Middle Easterners see our governments, for all their limitations and faults, as paradise compared to theirs, and also something perhaps achievable, and struggle to obtain.

    It’s kind of like McDonalds food. To starving person it would seem like paradise, and something to work desperately to obtain. But if one has constant access to it, and it’s the only thing to eat in town, day after day, week after week, not so great. Apathy sets in, at least if you are over 11 yrs old.

    Too, bad, I guess.

  7. Walker says:

    Newt, I think the apathy sets in not because our McGovernment is so much better than starving, but because no matter who gets voted in, important things just don’t change– big corporations have way too much influence because we don’t have campaign finance reform, military budgets and military adventures don’t get reined in, more and more of the country’s wealth is getting concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, Wall Street and the banksters wreak havoc with people’s life savings but are never held accountable, and only the very wealthy can really afford health care.

  8. Pete Klein says:

    Voter apathy is often complained about by those in the news media. Some of the complaining is valid but what is always overlooked is the possibility that those who don’t vote are in fact voting against both contestants. They don’t like either and refuse to chose between dumb and dumber. Their refusal to vote is a vote against both parties.
    How do you fix that? I don’t have an answer. And let’s face it. Most of us who do vote often vote for what we believe is the lesser of two evils.

  9. newt says:

    Walker- Yes.
    Pete-Yes. And I’ve become one of them after Obama’s post-election sellout to the bankers.

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