Fretting about vote splitting in this 3-way race? Worry about boosting voter turnout instead

Green Party’s Elizabeth May continues to urge voters to stop fretting about vote splitting and instead start a “buddy system” (a.k.a “refer-a-friend” strategy).

Bravo! If every voter in the last federal election recruits one other person to vote in the next federal election, Harper’s Conservatives will be toast this fall, argues May.

Fair enough. Why not try a grassroots campaign? Why not drag our kids, their friends and young colleagues into the voting booth?

The refer-a-friend strategy may indeed boost voter turnout. However, I fear my generation has probably squandered our credibility when it comes to promoting democracy among youth.

Take Michael Ignatieff. In his latest book, the former Liberal Leader provides his insights into political life. In Fire and Ashes he outlines his own political trials and tribulations with significant writing skill. The book is conveniently subtitled Success and Failure in Politics (Random House Canada, 2013).

Ignatieff explains his relationship with the media. “Obviously, a straight answer to a straight question is a good idea, and when citizens put a question to you, such candour becomes an obligation. They elect you after all. The rules are different with the press. … You try never to lie, but you don’t have to answer the question you’re asked, only the question you want to answer.”

I’m into PR. I think I understand spin. Actually, I’ll admit I enjoy spin. Also, I don’t want to underestimate the unrelenting pressures our politicians experience every day with a news cycle on social media steroids. We demand from our politicians instant responses and offer little forgiveness.

Nevertheless, it seems disturbing that a respected intellectual such as Ignatieff, a former journalist himself, feels politicians don’t have to answer questions from the media if not convenient.

“You try never to lie,” says a man who aspired to lead Canada. May this be one of the primary reasons younger voters often feel politicians can’t be trusted and don’t have anything to offer?

Can a refer-a-friend strategy get voters to the polls when our political leaders openly admit that it’s OK to avoid answering valid questions from the media (say, about the current refugee and migrant crisis unfolding in Europe?).

Ironically, social media platforms, even though they may threaten the long-term survival of mainstream media, may yet save our democracy by forcing politicians to try brutal honesty or burn (like toast).

Ignatieff says it well when he observes outsiders like Barack Obama can win elections by mobilizing youth by using the power of social media to draw them into a political campaign.

Buddy system sounds so baby boomer, Ms. May. Let’s share, re-tweet, re-post, recycle and re-purpose a very neutral message: Dude, go vote, now!

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