Friday, October 9, 2015

Getting Engaged

Every four years or so I get to see people change right before my eyes. I get to hear them say things I have never heard them say. Express views and levels of insight I never knew they had.

I am talking, of course, about the Winter Olympics.

You know the person. The one who suddenly becomes an expert in curling, explaining with new-found confidence what shot should be made. Or the one who can dissect a figure skating routine, identifying where points were won and lost.

The Olympics has that effect on a person. Pulling them towards something they otherwise would never devote the time to following. They cast aside their indifference, get caught up in the spectacle and develop expertise out of thin air. 

Over the past several weeks I have seen this same phenomenon play out in Canada's #elxn42, particularly when it comes to polls.

I see F5 keys being worn out on computers at work, as people refresh their screens in the hopes of getting the latest update to the CBC poll tracker. I overhear discussions about the national narrative, and how we really need to focus on what is happening at the regional level. I watch heated discussions about the use of land lines versus mobiles, about how the undecided are being distributed by this poller versus that one.

People are getting up early just to get the latest Nanos daily tracker results. Without missing a beat they can tell you that the EKOS tracker will come out at 4:00 pm. And then there are the seat God do people love the seat projections. 

And you know what? It's awesome. 

People are engaged in a way I did not see them being engaged in 2011, 2008 or 2006. People are talking about the polls, yes, but they are also talking about the issues. By and large they can articulate the narrative and position of the three main parties.

I tried to think about the reason. Availability of information is definitely part of the explanation. You can get election information and raw data from so many sources, so quickly. 

Twitter is also having an effect. If 2011 was Canada's first real Twitter election, the ensuing years have seen it grow into what often seems like the primary communications vehicle for parties, candidates, supporters and detractors.  If you are on-line you simply can't escape the chatter.

But if I had to pick one thing that is driving the current levels of engagement, I would vote for the emergence of a true change versus more of the same narrative. 

On the one side you have two parties casting themselves as agents of change, but who also have significant policy differences between them. There is a choice within the choice for change.

On the other side, you have a government casting themselves as stewards of stability and safety while at the same time trying to introduce a question of dangerous risks associated with their opponents.

And woven within all of this are so many issues. The economy, cultural accommodation, security, the environment, the role of government, trade. We have always had issues around which elections were framed, but I honestly can't recall a campaign with so many.

For both seasoned politics watchers and those who fall into the "winter olympics" category, this election has been fascinating to follow. Let's hope the next 10 days remain as compelling and that regardless of the outcome, the levels of engagement don't dip.

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