Election ads tuning us out of elections

October 17, 2011
This article was published more than 2 years ago.
Est. Reading Time: 2 minutes

Roy Campbell

The Silhouette

If there's one thing I remember about the provincial election more than anything else, it's the advertisements. Not the attack ads fired back and forth between the Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives, irritating though they were; I'm talking about the ads urging everyone simply to vote, period.

For a month or more before the election, it seemed they were everywhere. They appeared on buses, at the sides of websites, even in the coveted ad spaces above urinals.

It was clear from the sleek, Web 2.0 design of the ads that Elections Ontario was targeting young voters in the campaign; they even set up countless related websites like wheredoivote.ca to try to tap into the viral market. They seemed inescapable, making sure we knew exactly when, where and how to cast a ballot.

Yet, on Oct. 6, we set a record for the lowest-ever voter turnout in Ontario. The new parliament was chosen by just 45 per cent of the eligible population. What happened? Were people so bombarded with these ads that they eventually tuned out? Was it just another case of voter apathy?

Many people (myself included, I confess) grumbled in the weeks before election day that they were getting tired of constantly having elections, but I never expected so many people to be fed up enough that they would refuse to have their say in this one.

A lot of people have complained over the years that people are just too lazy and don't care about politics. I think the problem, though, is not that people are bored and uninterested, but rather why they are bored and uninterested. A democracy should be based on a population of citizens who are informed and engaged with issues relevant to them, but over the years we have gradually stopped being citizens and become consumers.

We are no longer engaged in our communities; we focus much more on the things we consume in our lives than what is going on in the world around us. When we stop connecting with issues in society, voting loses its meaning as a political decision and becomes another chore with little significance in our lives.

To increase interest in voting and get more people out to the polls, we will need to address this problem. We will need to find ways of engaging with the things in society that matter to us and to address them, rather than marking an X on a ballot and thinking that we've done everything we can for our communities.

Members of parliament are elected to represent the people's interests, but how can they do this if the people have no interest in engaging with them? Democracy requires involvement. When people feel engaged with democracy and what their representatives stand for, they will feel that their vote means something.

In short, engagement is what draws people to the polls. That's why next election's ad campaign shouldn't tell people where and how to cast a ballot; it should tell them how to get involved.

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