Canadians are annoyed – deliberation vs. engineering in elections

Pollsters now get people to press buttons about how they are feeling as they watch debates, and have discovered that Canadians are annoyed. This then feeds back to politicians, who try to, presumably, be less annoying, or, perhaps, try to blame other politicians for the annoyance.


Pollsters now get people to press buttons about how they are feeling as they watch debates, and have discovered that Canadians are annoyed. This then feeds back to politicians, who try to, presumably, be less annoying, or, perhaps, try to blame other politicians for the annoyance.

Constant polling, down to people’s second-to-second emotional reactions, and the publication of these polls, the presentation of images, the use of focus-group-tested buzzwords and phrases – this isn’t what democratic processes are supposed to be. Consider that Harper cancelled the census and discards criminological and climatological data when it suits – but he is probably reading the poll data very carefully.

The electorate is supposed to deliberate and then decide based on the public good. The system is hundreds of years old and was designed for a time when such exercises could not be done very frequently or on a wide range of issues. Today people can be polled about how they are feeling as they watch candidates on television from one moment to the next, and those results can be published within hours for everyone to see. Could we not use the same kinds of technology to actually make the decisions democratically, instead of using them to test our reactions as if to a spectator sport? Harper complains about “bickering”, in a message that was no doubt itself scientifically tested, and as if the Parliamentary system is an outdated instrument. Of course it is outdated, but if we had a more fair system – even slightly more fair, like proportional representation – it would wipe out his party and he, like other conservative parties in the western countries, would become a fringe, not the government.

The way that marketing science is used and electoral processes are manipulated is completely contrary to any conception of deliberative democracy. I wonder whether Angus Reid can test Canadians’ annoyance about that?

Justin Podur

Author: Justin Podur

Author of Siegebreakers. Ecology. Environmental Science. Political Science. Anti-imperialism. Political fiction. Teach at York U's FES. Author. Writer at ZNet, TeleSUR, AlterNet, Ricochet, and the Independent Media Institute.