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BEYOND THE HORSERACE – PART 1: A New Morning or Just Mourning?

THE LONGER TERM VIEW FROM THE PUBLIC

[Ottawa – January 12, 2012] Is there anything sadder than a pollster without a horserace? The fever pitch of real and imagined perturbations in an electorate vibrating to the vagaries of minority governments has been displaced by the serenity of a clear majority government. Not only are the Conservatives ascendant in the House of Commons, they have a clear majority in the Senate and are refashioning public institutions such as public service, the courts, and the media to support their goal of a new era with Conservatives as the new “natural governing party”. Stephen Harper’s Conservatives are on the verge of achieving the fruition of their patiently executed strategy to allow Canada to discover its inner Conservative child. The only mild uncertainty is another opportunity to drub the newly anaemic Liberals and the upstart NDP opposition, now leaderless and reeling with a neophyte caucus stripped of its top talent seeking leadership in some distant federal election. There appears to be no obstacle in the path of the Conservative machine’s continued dominance and the pollster has been reduced to tortured interpretations of what essentially meaningless vote intention data might mean for an indifferent public.

The current majority reflects a broad national fatigue with horse races and the fractious and unstable dynamics of the past decade. This sentiment, coupled with a high degree of risk aversion in an economically anxious and aging Canada were the key drivers of the last majority. This result was not only the product of these active factors; there were other more passive yet crucial factors which shaped the final outcome. Increasingly, there is a profound generational gap emerging in Canada. Whereas older Canada opted for prudence and stability, younger Canada largely stayed home. A blend of indifference and disapproval of politics has produced burgeoning levels of disengagement in younger Canada. Not only is Canada older than it has ever been, the relative political advantage of older Canada has been amplified by a steep fallout in younger voter participation and a newfound senior consensus around conservatism. This may reflect the still lingering echo of September 11th and a more astute and political playbook in conservative politics but there is little question that this political landscape is very different and unexpected from what we saw at the outset of this century, when liberal and progressive governments seemed to have an unshakable stranglehold over the political world that experts are now bestowing on conservatives. Yet the received wisdom of a decade ago was wrong and perhaps we should pause and reflect on something other than a nonexistent horserace.

In this coming series of columns and reports we want to shift away from the obsessive media focus on the horserace and offer an alternative approach to polling. While retaining a commitment to the increasingly elusive goal of scientific representativeness, we want to look at the deeper issues facing the country. We want to move from the hurly burly of the race to a more in depth consideration of where the public are and where they wish to go. We want to have citizens themselves select the top issues they want to discuss with their leaders and we want to engage them using refection and information. We want to hear the voices of all Canadians but we are not satisfied with the nostrum that if one didn’t vote, too bad lost your turn and we will see you in four years (maybe). This is particularly unacceptable when we now have most of under 40 Canada staying home and when this may well be a product of conscious political strategies designed to suppress their participation. The missing voices of under 40 Canada are crucial to the economic, cultural, and political well-being of this country. If our politics is teetering into the realms of oligarchy and gerontocracy then perhaps the tools of representative sampling coupled with the capacity for citizen engagement through the power of new electronic technologies, can redress some of this lacuna. If politics is becoming less and less democratic, maybe a rethought polling strategy become more so.

We will be releasing this poll in six parts, including this first release which will look at Canadians’ outlook on the country. The series will conclude with the winning choices for national conversations.

Click here for Part 1 of this series: Part 1: New Morning or Just Mourning? (January 12, 2012)

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