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poll

I hear it all the time. Heck, I’ve even said it myself. In our first-past-the-post system, only a handful of the 308 ridings nationwide are really, truly up for grabs in the election. For the rest of us, it can be easy to say things like “my vote won’t count” or “it doesn’t matter” or, my favourite, “why bother?”

If, like most Canadians, you don’t happen to live in a swing riding, here are the top 10 reasons why you should go out and vote anyway:

10. The polls can be wrong. Even if you think your riding is a “safe” seat – either for your candidate, or for an opposition one – the polling data could be wrong. Your vote may well count more than you think.

9. Parties get funded based on the number of votes they get – roughly $1.75 per vote. By voting for your favourite party or candidate, you’re funding the party and strengthening it for future elections.

8. Voter turnout keeps falling, and was at a historical low of only 58.8% in the 2008 federal election. That means that the Tories were voted in by only 22% of eligible voters. To elect a government that truly represents the population, the population has to turn out and vote.

7. Get your issues heard. Voting for a certain candidate sends a message to other candidates and parties that your issues are important. This might affect how they vote on key issues in Parliament.

6. If everyone assumes that their vote won’t count, then maybe they’ll all stay home and your vote will actually count more than you think. Candidates have lost supposedly “safe” ridings before because of this. It could happen again.

5. Second place doesn’t matter? Sure it does. A strong second-place showing could mean momentum for a candidate or party next time around. It could lead the party to target the riding for more funding or election spending, believing that it is “in play”. It could buoy more people to vote for that second-place candidate next time, in the belief that there’s a chance of beating the incumbent.

4. Egypt. Tunisia. Bahrain. Saudi Arabia. Iran. Libya. All the people in the world out risking their lives to demonstrate for the right to vote, which we so casually take for granted.

3. Voting is a right, a privilege, and a responsibility of living in a democracy. Take it seriously.

2. If you don’t vote, you forfeit your right to complain.

1. If you don’t vote, you don’t get any chocolate cake.

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The other day, a conversation thread on Facebook about the online petition demanding Jean Charest’s resignation turned into a friendly debate/discussion about Quebec politics. The comments posted by a number of people were interesting and varied, and at one point, the discussion became about the accountability of politicians to the people they serve, and the nature of democracy, kicked off by the following comment by Phil:

My Quebec resembles the Swiss or Swedish kind of socialism way with shelter and food as a basic human rights, one where large decisions are made in a perpetual referendum where everyone vote and gets a say in where tax money goes. Out with representatives and in with True democracy.

Alexandre expanded on the thought in a follow-up comment:

The democracy you describe is strangely similar to the one I have in mind, one where each issue debated at the political level needs to be voted on by mini-referendums (by computer votes, secured, etc.). Ultimately, we could downsize the government significantly and use that kind of system to steer all the debates. Do you want an investigation on the construction industry: Yes, No… Political parties would then have 1 month on big issue and 2 weeks on smaller issues to inform, convince and steer the population to vote and then the vote would be held and the PEOPLE would chose the outcome, totally oblivious to any party in power at the moment, with no veto, no muzzling, just the people choosing their way. That would be true democracy.

I’ve heard these arguments before. They’re the basis for the anti-Charest petition, and, in fact, are at the heart of the political system itself. How much of an obligation do politicians have to vote according to the mood of their constituents? How far can – or should – they go in using opinion polls as a basis to govern? And at what point do they no longer represent the people who put them in office, by ignoring them too much?

We don’t live in a democracy. We live in a representative democracy. That means, we vote every once in a while for people to represent us and make the decisions of governing on our behalf. If we don’t like their decisions, we can vote them out of office. But we don’t put every decision to a direct vote, and I don’t think we realistically could, or even should.

A pure democracy would be impractical. It would get bogged down with the logistics of endless votes. It would cause a self-selection bias with low turnout and only the fringe minority casting ballots. It would force people to make decisions on issues that they know little or nothing about, because – unlike politicians – they have day jobs and can’t possibly keep up with every issue that elected officials and their paid staff spend time on.

And, more importantly, a pure democracy would be irresponsible, even if we could implement it practically. Why? Because a majority-rules only system has no built-in protections for minorities. “Do you want an investigation into the construction industry?” seems like a fairly straightforward question – if the population wants it, do it; if not, don’t.  But what about other questions, like, “Should people have to prove that they can speak French before being allowed to vote?” A 2007 CROP poll showed majority support for the idea, which went much further than even the Marois-proposed legislation at the time. How about, “should people be allowed to wear a hijab in the workplace?” Do we take France’s example and strip the rights of religious minorities, just on the majority’s say-so?

And hey, just look at what happened when the Habs started letting people vote on the three stars of the game. Agree or disagree with the old star rankings, at least they were usually reflective of the game itself, and players from the opposing team would earn stars if their performance merited it. Now, with Price getting top star virtually every game, it’s turned into a joke. Good thing it means next to nothing. But now imagine a similar system in place for things that actually matter.

Governing is already largely about a popularity contest. If governments stray too far from what the people want, they pay the price on election day. It’s why they already rely so heavily on polling data and public opinion in order to govern. But to take it a step further and assume that all significant decisions should be taken to a vote would be to make matters all that much worse.

No, I’m not in favour of the nanny-state approach or the “father knows best” idea of governing. I don’t think our politicians know best. I think we need lots of scrutiny and checks and balances to avoid letting them do whatever they want.

But I also think that decisions sometimes need to be made that aren’t just reflective of what the mood of the people is on a particular day. Sometimes, people with a little bit of inside or expert knowledge about a situation are better qualified to make the kinds of day-to-day decisions that it takes to run a government.

And that’s why a pure democracy wouldn’t work, and a representative democracy – to borrow an old, tired, Churchill-ism, is the worst system, except for all the other ones we’ve tried.

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No, really?

08.27.2008

Here’s a shocker: Canadians don’t like to wait in line. In related news, the sky is blue.

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Poll time

09.09.2007

Best meal of the week? Friday night dinner? Sunday brunch? view results

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National Geographic survey: 4 years later

09.16.2006

Four years ago, I blogged about the National Geographic survey that found, among other things, that 11% of young Americans couldn’t pick out the United States on a world map. Now, National Geographic has conducted a new survey. Like the last one, you can test yourself. Any improvements in the results? Well, judge for yourself.

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Conspirazoid theories: Not just for kooks anymore

09.12.2006

I’ve long maintained that if you repeat a lie often enough, people will start to believe it. Wingnuts have been doing it for years… and apparently, it’s paying off. A new poll conducted by Ipsos-Reid found that now, five years after 9/11, over one in five Canadians believe that the whole thing was a US-concocted […]

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Who comes up with these headlines anyway?

07.24.2006

The headline: Half think Harper too pro-Israel. The article: [The poll] said 45 per cent agree Harper’s position is “fair and balanced and completely appropriate,” while 44 per cent say it is “decidedly too pro-Israel and is not appropriate.” Eleven per cent say he has not supported Israel strongly enough. Hmmm, by my calculation, that […]

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Hey, maybe Charest should just call a referendum right now

01.31.2006

A new poll shows a big drop in support for sovereignty in the wake of the federal election: The CROP poll for the La Presse newspaper showed only 34 percent of Quebecers would vote “yes” in a referendum on whether to split from the rest of Canada, down steeply from 43 percent before last week’s […]

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Anglophobia?

08.02.2005

The Gazette published an editorial today by Don MacPherson in which it discussed results of a new CROP- La Presse poll stating that an Anglophone could never get elected Premier here in Quebec. Excuse me for saying this… but duh! Us make up less than 10% of Quebec’s population, we’re mostly concentrated in Montreal, and […]

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Misinformed about the Shoah

01.24.2005

As the UN commemmorates the Holocaust, it seems that many Canadians haven’t learnt much about it in the first place: In a poll released Monday by the Association for Canadian Studies, 35 per cent of Quebecers surveyed said they believe other nationalities – Poles, mainly – were the principal victims of the Nazis, not Jews. […]

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