We are all starting to come to grips with the importance of the May Alberta election. According to polls, it is very difficult to say now if the UCP or the NDP will get re-elected.
That result is in our hands as citizens. The collective "WE" will decide but will the results be conclusive given the regional divisions in Alberta, and the final decision will be determined by a few Calgary constituencies.
BUT VOTE WE MUST - IF YOU VALUE DEMOCRACY
That voting decision making is a very personal activity and fraught with complexity and confusion and it takes time and effort to do it well.
However, for others, like dedicated partisans, the voting decision is simple, stick with your Tribe because winning is power and getting power for your side is the purpose of elections.
For many of us, "we have issues." By that I mean we will be doing more analysis as we consider our ballot choices.
Some will be considering HOW to vote which usually means a "strategic vote" where the motivation is to vote against the party or leaders perceived to be the most dangerous if given power. Cynics call this the least worst decision process.
Others will vote based on WHO to vote for. This is mostly determined by personal perceptions of the Leaders. Given how centralized political power is in parties and caucuses, on the leader, that is an important consideration too.
Some other WHO voters will decide based on the local candidates and their connection to the constituency and local issues. That is often no more than a decision based on name recognition. Hardly a sound way to select a lawmaker, but a very common practice by so-called slacktivist citizens.
WHAT ABOUT THE REST OF US?
And then there are the rest of us. We are the WHAT voters. We are issues-based voters. Sometimes our voting motivation is focused on a single issue, or a group of related policy issues like healthcare, economy, education, or the environment.
We are the more nuanced and complex voters. We are too difficult for political parties and election platform advisors to connect with in the typical simplistic mass-messaging campaigning methods. However some of us WHAT voters are unwittingly on party lists. That is because we answered an online survey, gave out email and postal code in order to download something of interest, or were part of some other email harvesting techniques.
As a result, there are political parties that have information on you and a sense of what is important to us. Modern technology enables the parties to micro-target us with relevant, and they hope, resonant key messages from their election platforms. If that is you, expect emails and requests for donations.
UNDECIDED CITIZENS GET IGNORED
Then there are the WHAT voters who are motivated to cast their votes based on specific issue concerns. They too are largely overlooked and ignored by the political parties at election time. And that is because the are seen mostly as a time-sucking, complicating, nuisance, especially by local candidates.
ELECTIONS ARE ABOUT OVER-SIMPLIFIED MESSAGES
Issues-based WHAT voters usually want to deal with matters fraught with complexities. There is some wisdom in the observations made many years ago by former Prime Minister Kim Campbell when she observed that elections are not the time to deal with complex issues.
She was ridiculed for this comment but time has proven her to be insightful as well as inciteful. So if we want our issues dealt with in the campaign, we WHAT voters must do the outreach and bring our issues and concerns to the attention of the parties in the campaign.
Don’t be discouraged by the candidates quick handshake as they stare past you at someone more important to them, or at a staffer that they want to come over and rescue them from you. Stand your ground, make your point, and follow up with an email to reinforce your message.
Quite frankly, do not expect to have much impact in changing anything during an election campaign. The platforms are set and the party discipline will not allow any candidate to get off message. You will get a canned campaign response, if you get anything at all.
But that inadequate response doesn't mean you should not still be putting your issues and concerns in front of your local candidates. DO NOT WASTE YOUR TIME CONNECTING WITH THE PARTY OR THE LEADERS. CONCENTRATE ON LOCAL CANDIDATES. One of them will be elected and that is when you can reach out again. you can be more effective in getting attention on your issues after the election. Best use the election time to figure out and focus on your issues and concerns.
WHY CITIZENSHIP MATTERS
Citizenship Matters is a citizenship based initiative that is more about the post-election outreach not the election the campaigning time. That is when the WHAT voters really need to get to go to work and set out to have impact and influence on the newly elected government.
As a friend of mine has sardonically observed “no matter who you vote for the government always gets in.” The point is, in a democracy, it is still a government by the people, unless of course the people fail or neglect to keep it that way through effectively engaged activated citizenship.