I read a somewhat troubling story this morning about Canadian citizens who have previously not only been registered to vote, but who have voted, and are no longer registered with Elections Canada. Here is an excerpt:
Delaney Ryan is a 23-year-old anthropology student at Simon Fraser University. Unlike many of her contemporaries, she voted in both the last provincial and federal elections. She meets all the criteria for voter registration, having her driver’s licence and maintaining the same address since voting in those elections.
She can’t understand why, then, this time, she wasn’t registered on the voters list.
“I had heard rumours about people not being registered, and a friend’s Facebook page had postings on it of other people finding out they were suddenly no longer registered. A lot of these people seemed to be in the same demographic as me. So I went online (to the Elections Canada website) and checked, and I wasn’t on it, either.
David Moscrop of Maclean’s magazine, has been writing a series of articles on the psychology of politics. Why do we have the political opinions that we do? The answer, as you now know, is a combination of environmental, demographic, and personal characteristics. More and more, political scientists and psychologists have been researching the importance of psychology as a factor that influences political beliefs and behaviours.
At the beginning of his article, Moscrop reveals the inspiration behind the series:
But the truth is that your gut is as much a source of your political decisions as your rational brain, and much of the time your gut—emotions, feelings, intuition—does its work outside of your awareness.
Yep. The faces of the candidates, the pitch of their voices, their gender and ethnicity and height; whether or not you believe in God, whether or not you’re hungry, whether you’re a lawyer or dock worker or school teacher; the effects of political advertising, the effects of issue framing or priming, the effects of your peer group; your partisanship, your family, your fears.
Here we see an image taken from the article, that demonstrates the various parts of our bodies that are involved in the making of political decisions.
Today, we continue to look at Canada’s glorious Prime Minister, Stephen Harper. Besides being the current PM of Canada, Stephen Harper is also an honourable MP (member of parliament–we Canadians are forever grateful to the glorious denizens of Calgary Southwest*) and the leader of the federal Conservative Party.
On the short quiz that I gave on Tuesday, you were asked to write three words or phrases that are usually associated with conservatism, as a political ideology. Did any of you use the word “protect?”
Below you’ll find some screenshots of the scrolling images on the home page of the Conservative Party website. You’ll notice that the political campaign operatives have decided to portray PM Harper is our daddy, whose job it is to protect us in a dangerous world. Protect our jobs (presumably from being snatched away by foreigners); protect our children; protecting our economy, and protecting us from terrorists and others who would do us harm. Will it work?
“Fear makes man unwise in the three great departments of human conduct: his dealings with nature, his dealings with other men, and his dealings with himself. Until you have admitted your own fears to yourself, and have guarded yourself by a difficult effort of will against their myth-making power, you cannot hope to think truly about many matters of great importance … .”
—Bertrand Russell (“Outline of Intellectual Rubbish” in Unpopular Essays 1950)
When political scientists engage in studies of political phenomena there are many approaches that they may take. One oft-used approach is the so-called most similar systems design. This approach tries to “control for concomitant variation.” What does that mean? In social research it is difficult to clear cause-and-effect relationships because phenomena are complex and multi-faceted. Thus, if we wanted to determine why, for example, Canada is a relatively enduring and stable democracy, and Azerbaijan is not, one potential reason could be the relatively different histories of the two countries–Canada is a former British colony, while Azerbaijan was a former republic in the Soviet Union (which was a communist state).
Could this be the reason? Possibly. But, there are so many other differences between Canada and Azerbaijan that could also be the cause of the divergent outcomes regarding present political regime. Which one of these myriad differences, then, is the true cause of the difference between Canada and Azerbaijan regarding the level of democracy in each? (Indeed, the answer may not be mono-causal, but more complex and multi-causal.)
This is why many comparativists use the most similar systems design. By selecting units (countries) that are as similar as possible, they can control for many other potential causes for the alleged divergence in outcomes across the political phenomenon of interest.
So, let’s look at Canada and Australia–two countries that are quite similar in many respects: former British colonies, large land masses with relatively small populations, multi-cultural, constitutional monarchies, parliamentary democracies, economies reliant on natural resources, neither of which has won FIFA’s World Cup (men or women), etc. The two countries, differ, however, in levels of voting participation. Whereas barely 60% of eligible Canadians vote in federal elections, the corresponding figure for Australia is well over 90%. Do Aussies simply value political participation more than Canadians? Hardly! Australia has a mandatory voting law, which penalizes (monetarily) those who do not vote.
Should Canada enact a mandatory voting law? What do you think? Is it anti-democratic to force citizens to participate in the democratic process?