Crawl Across the Ocean

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Obvious Answer Not Always the Right Answer

Here's something that happens every election, but I'm only going to explain once.

Voting in advance polls has been going up for years and years. Meanwhile overall voting turnout has been going down. So when the results come in for the advance polls and elections Canada says that more people voted in advance polls than last time, and everybody goes out and writes a headline or a blog post about the 'encouraging' increase in advance poll turnout, it's really just a sign that we are all doomed.

Some numbers from Elections Canada:

# of Advance Voters:
1997: 704,336
2000: 775,157
2004: 1,248,469
2006: 1,561,945
turnout %:
1997: 67.0%
2000: 61.2%
2004: 60.9%
2006: ?

Credit to the Globe and Mail for getting the story right. Maybe there is hope for us yet.

On the other hand, check out this article from the Star.

Starting in paragraph 3,
"Weather doesn't influence voter turnout," said Nelson Wiseman, associate professor of political science at the University of Toronto. Weisman said the experience in provincial elections in Ontario and Prince Edward Island in October, 2003 make the point.

"It was a beautiful sunny fall day here in Ontario," Wiseman said. "Voter turnout was 57 per cent. In Prince Edward Island, there was a hurricane on election day. Turnout was 83 per cent."

Rather than the skies above, one should consult history for an accurate prediction, Wiseman says. He notes that Ontario has historically low turnouts in provincial elections, while in P.E.I. it is high."

A few short lines later,
"The weather for Ontario, at least, suggests it will be a mild day to vote, so weather shouldn't be a factor in this province."



  • Hi Declan,

    Can you think of any obvious reason that voting isn't mandatory, as in Australia? People who grumble about not caring for any of the candidates are still free to spoil their ballots in any wonderful way they choose, and I think that a large number of spoiled ballots would send a clear message to politicians that they are all doing a bad job, while low voter turnout is somehow not interpreted like that.

    When 40 of every 100 elligible voters decides simply not to bother, more alarm bells should be ringing than currently are.

    Also, while on the topic, what do you think is the cause of ever-decreasing voter turnout? I would probably agree to an argument that politics in the past was a little more exciting, but I would disagree that the issues were any more pressing then vs now.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:42 PM  

  • The advance poll numbers have been going up because there are TV commercials advertising the advance polls. It's really that simple.

    One reason voter turnout is going down is that there is so much media pressure for every party to be the same. Some people ask me: What's the point of voting when the policies are the same? Obviously I disagree with that perception, but the perception is still there.

    By Blogger Michael Fox, at 5:24 PM  

  • Philip - I'm against mandatory voting myself. I think the value of an act is diminished by people being compelled to do it.

    Also, while some might spoil their ballots if forced to vote, I think most would just vote, many in ngorance. I think that, in general, mandatory voting would mask underlying problems of voter apathy which are more obvious and thus more likely to prompt a response under our current system.

    I do agree that more alarm bells should be ringing. Especially since you would expect an aging population to lead to rising participation, not decreasing.

    As for why there is decreasing turnout, I think it is pretty much the same logic by which movie ticket sales (per capita) have steadily declined for years and years.

    Like it or not, politics has to compete on an 'entertainment' basis and the entertinment value of politics hasn't changed much over the years while the entertainment field has gotten a lot more competitive.

    Or to put it another way. Next Monday some people will end up playing video games all night and never get out to the polling booth - 50 years ago that wouldn't happen.

    Also, I think the individualization of society (fewer family and social contacts) reduces participation in collective endeavours (like politics), although I'm less sure on this one, and would be open to data suggesting otherwise.

    It's certainly true that people (unfairly, in my opiion) have a more negative view of politicians than in the past, so perhaps that is depressing turnout as well.

    TTory - That's certainly a factor (the advertising), and probably one I underestimate because I don't watch much TV (I haven't seen any such commercials). Still, I don't think it's the only reason. I only have anecdotal evidence but a lot of people I know / read, seem to list avoiding hassle as a main reason for advance voting.

    I think there's been a bit of a cultural shift in how people view advance polls, from a tool of necesity to one of convenience (and certainly advertising has aided that shift).

    By Blogger Declan, at 6:34 PM  

  • I second Declan's objection to mandatory voting. A coworker of mine told me that she never votes, because she can't be bothered to learn about the issues. And while it would be nice if she'd take the time to research the issues, I'd rather her stay home than vote out of ignorance.

    Re weather: a few years ago I read that Liberal supporters are less likely to vote in bad weather than supporters of any other party. Liberal voters are, quite literally, fair-weather friends. Can't say I'm surprised: I know of many voters who really like the Conservatives and many who love the NDP, but nearly everyone I know who has ever marked an X next to a Liberal candidate's name has done so without enthusiasm.

    (Random observation from my 20 minutes at the advance polls: the median age of voters there was around 70. Really.)

    By Blogger Moebius Stripper, at 9:42 PM  

  • I definitely disagree re: mandatory voting. When people can't (or won't) even be bothered to learn the issues, they are still more than welcome to check the "I didn't care enough to learn about the issues" box, which I still think is a better thing to know than simply x% of the population didn't vote.

    Even something as simple as an opt-out sheet with the elections canada package would (I think) help everyone understand why so few people vote. If it really is that we're all too busy playing video games then that's something I think we need to know, too, because maybe its time to reform the very voting _mechanism_, but we'll never know until some actual numbers come in.

    By Blogger Philip, at 9:58 PM  

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