Sunday, September 19, 2010


So how DO voters choose their votes?

With so many choices in many wards and for mayor, just how do voters compare them and pick the one they want? Exactly what process can a voter use to come to a selection?

An Inside Toronto article by Tim Foran, 'Too Many Candidates Spoil the Ballot' got me thinking about this. Paraphrasing some of the points here: Some people only register but don't actually campaign or have an intention to get elected; there are an average of 4 names per school trustee ballot in wards across the city in ward 18... 4 people registered at the last moment to challenge Maria Rodrugues for TDSB); races for councillor and mayor tend to get more cluttered; races at the local level don't get much mainstream media coverage, leaving voters uninformed: "There'll be a lot of guessing and stabbing in the dark", so says Nelson Wiseman, professor of political science at the University of Toronto.)

As something of a political geek, I've followed many elections, been involved in some as a volunteer campaigner, and had the extraordinary opportunity to work in elections at all levels as a Poll Clerk, Deputy Returning Officer, and some other senior positions. As an election officer, I've even had people asking me who they should vote for! (Can't do that - absolute neutrality is a job requirement for that day).

My take on how voters typically select their vote, and especially for this election:

1. Getting Even: "Keeping fear alive, as Stephen Colbert puts it means stoking voters' worst instincts: Politicians are corrupt,. They waste your money. They don't listen. They don't care" (Christopher Hume, urban issues reporter in The Star: ). There are many articles detailing how angry voters are with incumbents. Mad about too many taxes, user fees, mishandled garbage strike, suburbia anger against downtown and their perception they are forgetoon and their taxes go elsewhere... hence Rob Ford's popularity. Despite the fact whoever they vote for will impact their lives, many Torontonians just want to express ANGER...yet, I agree with former mayor David Crombie... "anger is a very bad emotion to build a city on..." It will be interesting to see if anger fuels voter turnout - last election in this ward saw only 35% of eligible voters actually doing so.

2. Name Recognition: Nelson Wiseman said: "They (ignorant or confused voters) will normally select a name they recognise..." It may be ONLY that with no knowledge of who the candidate really is. They may even have just seen an election sign or remember a campaign flyer or even some reference in news stories (good or bad doesn't matter). This is why (until this weird year) incumbents have always had a great advantage. This is why those that can afford it deluge people with snazzy multi-colour brochures, offer free hot dogs at community events and try to be seen everywhere and identified with every cause, culture or concern. If you have the money, you can buy the recognition. (That said, there are those who earn it with their deeds, not their pocketbook).

3. AFFINITY: Humans are still tribal. We are attracted to those who are - or seem to be - like us. Nelson Wiseman also goes on to say (about confused or ignorant voters), that " ... they will go for a name that triggers something more positive in them, such as they might think the ethnicity (of a candidate) is the same as theirs." Many voters will guess that certain sounding name might be strong or reliable or friendly or kind.... or whatever they wished they had for their political respresentative. Voters who guess like this do themselves a dissrevice, as it means they are not informed about the issues or options or substance of candidates. I would include in this category Partisan Party Labels : many voters will just choose the party label, usually Liberal or NDP in this ward. (I can remember in previous elections, the husband telling the wife, "They said we need to pick the Liberal... which one is that?"

4. BANDWAGON : Everyone want to be seen as making the right choices, or at the very least, sharing blame for bad choices. If the polls tell you 'everyone else is going to choose this'... a last resort is to make that choice and hope to hell everyone else was right. Remember mothers telling kids things like 'So, if everyone else is going to jump off a bridge, does that measn you should too?' That's what polls do for us. I personally believe polls are bad for democracy and there should be a law forbidding them for at least three weeks before voting day. Polls are usfel for candidates to gauge the effectiveness of their getting the message out, but are not good when they are allowed to influence voters.

5. ONE ISSUE VOTER: Many voters will have that one burning issue that is all they care about... my garbage is still not being picked up...they took away my parking...we do/don't want community gardens...all I care about is too much crime... etc. Maybe they heard candidate X doesn't/didn't care and candidate Y promises to put things back the way they were and candidate Z wants to hear more but is open to doing what they want. So the decision of who gets the power (for the HUNDREDS of other issues that will come up for years) is made on one small snippet of time and concern. Maybe the voter wins what they want on that one issue, but next election will he/she be upset about other things that happened?... and do it all again.

6. INFORMED VOTER : Best choice in my view. Reads/watches all the news, goes to candidate debates and asks tough questions, looks at all campaigns and literature with a critical, analytic eye, actually meets the candidate and looks him/her in the eye, judges that CHARACTER and integrity and honesty is more important than where they may be on few issues. Thinks ahead, looks for vision and ideas and flexibility.

7. NON-VOTER : Worst choice in my view. A voter who comforts himself/herself that 'all politicians are crooks' and pats themselves on the back whenever something goes wrong later, saying 'Well, I didn't vote for THAT one!"... actually YOU DID ! By ducking your civic duty to help run this city... your city... you permitted that screwup to get in. It is common knowledge amongst experienced campaigners that it is not about getting the most votes out of the whole pie - it is about getting your votes out and not the competition's.... and relying on the angry, uninformed, unengaged voter to not mess things up by participating - or by punishing your incumbent-related opponent by not voting.

We need INFORMED VOTERS this election more than ever..... because

Davenport Deserves Better !