Nov 072019

The People's Choice

In choosing our representatives for public office, are the winning candidates in any given election really ‘the people’s choice’? Or do they win for completely different reasons?

The answer to these questions may surprise you.

Many believe that ‘strategic voting‘ is what ultimately decides the winner – where voters are not voting for a particular candidate, but against another. And while it turns out that this is true for a significant number of voters (35%), statistics reveal that many other significant voting patterns are contributing to a final electoral outcome.

Perhaps most surprising is that 57% of voters (according to a Leger poll conducted after the last Canadian election) say that they voted “based on their political convictions, without any thought to their candidates’ chances of winning.”

Another surprise is that among eligible voters who choose not to vote, 39.5% (according to Elections Canada) say that they simply “are not interested in politics,” and have no particular desire to participate in elections. Indeed, efforts to increase voter participation may prove fruitless in attempting to appeal to this group – unless of course, arguments can be made convincingly enough to create that interest.

And then there’s the phenomenon of populism. Populist politicians, like U.S. President Donald Trump, Britain’s Nigel Farage, and Canada’s Maxime Bernier have been among those associated with ‘populist’ issues believed to appeal to a broad electoral base. In each case, those issues related to immigration, national sovereignty, and an opposition to the politics of globalism – issues that have disturbed traditional voting patterns.

But in the end, it is political parties themselves that ultimately select the menu of candidates to be fielded in any given election. Only once a candidate is selected by a party, does the voter get to meaningfully participate in the electoral process.

Consequently, some see political parties as an undesirable obstacle between the voters and their potential representatives (i.e., candidates ‘forced to tow the party line’). But in a free democracy, and to even be able to offer freedom as a viable option on the grand political menu, political parties offer the only structure, discipline, and process that history has demonstrated to be Just Right, despite their risks of leading in the wrong direction.

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