October 26, 2020

Winnipeg
-6° C, A few clouds

Full Forecast

Close
Winnipeg Free Press

ABOVE THE FOLD

Subscribe

Election campaign puts brakes on voter engagement

Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 1/10/2019 (391 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

In every election poll, there are the numbers everybody reports — voting intentions and top choices for prime minister — and there are some deeper data cuts almost no one reports.

Such as the number of respondents who are already confident they will not vote.

In the most recent Free Press-Probe Research poll on federal voting intentions, the Conservative Party of Canada has a significant province-wide lead over the Liberals. In Winnipeg, the Tories and Liberals are running neck-and-neck, with the NDP showing modest upward momentum.

 

 

 

Probe also includes a category for people who definitely will not vote. Province-wide, about two per cent respondents indicate they will avoid polling stations at all costs.

If there was any truth to that number, it would be cause for celebration.

Voter turnout in federal elections has been plummeting, although 2015 was a high-water mark, with 68 per cent of registered voters playing a role in the outcome. If we assume turnout will go down Oct. 21 — a super-safe assumption — it means way more than two per cent of registered voters will fail to cast a ballot.

Why the gap? Obviously, there are a number of people who are truly undecided (Probe pegged that number Manitoba-wide at about 17 per cent) and many of them will ultimately not vote. However, pollsters will say most people are actually afraid to admit they plan to not vote.

The Tories dominate in rural seats but are running neck–and–neck with the Liberals in Winnipeg, where the NDP are showing increased strength. At this stage, it suggests the Liberals will win fewer than the seven seats they captured in 2015.

Consider following the 2003 provincial election, the Free Press and Probe launched a special survey to find out why voter turnout had plummeted to 54 per cent, a 14-point drop from 1999. Unfortunately, the results were profoundly skewed by people's inability to admit they didn't vote.

Although only 54 per cent of Manitobans cast a ballot in that election, 70 per cent of respondents claimed to have voted. With sufficient weighting and a large enough sample size, it was an impossible result unless, of course, people weren't telling the truth.

Right now, it seems entirely possible the nation might set some sort of record for low voter turnout in this election, given Canada's political parties are doing everything they can to dampen enthusiasm.

From Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau's grotesque blackface incidents, to Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer's Leave It to Beaver-era approach to climate change, to Green Leader Elizabeth May's misadventures with disposable cups and Adobe Photoshop, Canadians have been presented with only two real choices: bad and worse.

With so little inspiration, the only thing that appears to be a sure bet is voter turnout will go down. By how much remains to be seen, but as the number of motivated voters drops, the result becomes less legitimate and divisions between regions become more pronounced.

Nationally, while the Conservatives are dominating in Western Canada, the Liberals continue to hold the advantage in Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada. That means although the two are in a virtual tie in national polls, the Liberals will likely win more seats with roughly the same slice of popular vote.

Right now, it seems entirely possible the nation might set some sort of record for low voter turnout in this election, given Canada's political parties are doing everything they can to dampen enthusiasm. (Graham Hughes / Canadian Press files)

Right now, it seems entirely possible the nation might set some sort of record for low voter turnout in this election, given Canada's political parties are doing everything they can to dampen enthusiasm. (Graham Hughes / Canadian Press files)

In Manitoba, the same phenomenon exists, although in a different configuration. The Tories dominate in rural seats but are running neck-and-neck with the Liberals in Winnipeg, where the NDP are showing increased strength. At this stage, it suggests the Liberals will win fewer than the seven seats they captured in 2015.

Beyond that, it's a mug's game.

The big problem with the most recent poll is it cannot capture or predict the trends that will take hold in the last three weeks of the campaign — which is when most people will decide whether to vote and, if they are going to cast a ballot, which party and leader deserve their support.

The two national leaders debates, the first of which takes place Oct. 7, could influence some. And there is always a chance one of the party leaders will do something else to bring shame to their party.

That is an observation, in and of itself, that captures the essence of this election.

The "winner" will not be the party and leader with the best plan to lead Canada through these uncertain and perilous times. It will be the party and leader that manages to get through the last three weeks of the campaign without suffering some sort of fatal, self-inflicted political wound.

Hardly the kind of campaign that drives voter engagement.

dan.lett@freepress.mb.ca

Dan Lett

Dan Lett
Columnist

Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.

   Read full biography
   Sign up for Dan Lett | Not for Attribution

History

Updated on Wednesday, October 2, 2019 at 7:12 AM CDT: Corrects reference to the 2003 provincial election

The Winnipeg Free Press invites you to share your opinion on this story in a letter to the editor. A selection of letters to the editor are published daily.

To submit a letter:
• fill out the form on this page, or
• email letters@freepress.mb.ca, or
• mail Letters to the Editor, 1355 Mountain Avenue, Winnipeg, Manitoba, R2X 3B6.

Letters must include the writer’s full name, address, and a daytime phone number. Letters are edited for length and clarity.