Monday, July 08, 2013

The unengaged majority

Samara has released a study on the sadly limited level of public participation in Canadian politics and community activities. And Susan Delacourt and Misty Harris both follow up - with Harris catching what looks to me like the most important point:
Sixty per cent of Canadians say they haven’t discussed a political or societal issue face-to-face or over the phone even once in the past 12 months, according to a striking new study by Samara. And it’s not that those conversations have simply moved online, either.

Just 17 per cent of Canadians say they have shared political content via social media in the last year; 15 per cent blogged about a political issue; 30 per cent used email or instant messaging to talk politics; and 25 per cent participated in an online discussion group for such purposes.

“Politics is viewed as a dirty word – something that isn’t appropriate or that should be celebrated,” said Alison Loat, Samara’s executive director. “But it’s through politics that we decide how we’re going to live together, how we shape laws, how we allocate billions of dollars of tax money. . . . It’s the process by which we build our country every day.”
Now, it's particularly striking that the poll question about political or societal issues wasn't limited to the partisan politics which are so often seen as the problem. Instead, the problem extends to a lack of discussion of any issues at all - whether or not they reflect the priorities of political parties.

And I'd think that finding leads to an obvious need for change: to the extent there is a taboo against talking about political issues in a wide variety of settings, that restriction on the scope of expected discussion has gone too far.

Samara's poll actually found more people actually involved in participating within civil society groups, signing petitions or boycotting products than talking about issues. Which means that a substantial number of respondents with enough interest to act on political issues couldn't think of a single time when those same issues were discussed.

That set of respondents raises one challenge: a political culture which to a great extent treats the majority of citizens as passive rather than active participants seems to be reflected in their actions. But it's hard to believe that people signing petitions or engaging in boycotts don't have at least some interest in talking about why they engage in those actions. Which means that the main issue may be a lack of opportunity to get involved - a problem which any political party or activist group should be eager to remedy.

Meanwhile, the survey also includes a substantial number of respondents who aren't involved in any way. But there too, some public affirmation that there's value in discussing political and social issues (along with a greater number of opportunities to participate) would have the potential to make a significant difference - and hopefully create an expectation that everybody will at least think and talk about the issues that affect their lives.


  1. Anonymous10:13 a.m.

    What works in a Democracy, does not work in a Dictatorship. Most of us have been brought up in a Democracy and good over evil. Canada is no longer the good and decent country, we are so used to. Canada has become a cesspool of corruption, governed by an evil tyrant Dictator. Unless Canadians are willing to do what other countries people do, to get rid of their evil tyrants? We will never get rid of Harper, unless he is bodily thrown out of Canada or thrown in the brig.

  2. Who started that 'rule' anyway--that you shouldn't discuss politics or religion? Those are exactly the topics we should discuss when the situation warrants it. Which, I believe, is frequently. Sounds like a HarperCON rule. Or their dream come true.

  3. Part of the problem is that none of our political parties is engaging the disaffected electorate. They're not addressing their concerns, they're not communicating with them. If you don't speak of things that resonate with the public, the issues that really concern them, of course you're going to lose their confidence and their support.

    We have lost a great deal of our political diversity. The NDP no longer anchors the left, having decided that attaining power demands centrism. The Tories have likewise drifted toward the centre on some issues, enough to make them appear somewhat moderate. The Libs are stuck in place unable to breathe. There's a greyness to it all.

    Our Parliament is full of Petro-Pols on both sides of the aisle. Mulcair tried to take a stand on bitumen but then folded. Who is attacking our growing inequality problem? Who is championing the defence of democracy against corporatism and the corporate media cartel? Who is advancing a serious platform on climate change? Not the government. Not the Official Opposition. Not the Libs. Only Elizabeth May and the Greens and they don't carry any weight.

    Our political classes have made themselves irrelevant at best, a scourge at worst. The public has learned not to look to them for answers and certainly not for leadership.