By Murray Dobbin, Tyee website, April 25, 2011
From a Globe and Mail article:
"What the parties are starting to do instead is called 'micro-targeting,' aiming their policies and messages at narrow bands of the population to shift just enough votes to win. The Conservatives are by far the most sophisticated in Canada at this technique, which tries to understand population in new ways. They use market research data on buying habits and combine it with census data, internal polling and focus groups to shape their campaign's direction and rhetoric."
This is an explicit abandoning of community engagement in politics. Add to this the millions spent on TV advertising -- much of it negative and outright vicious -- repeating simple and simple-minded messages over and over again, and it is a wonder democracy produces any positive results. This is not voter engagement. It is precisely and deliberately the opposite and has been given a name by its perpetrators: voter suppression.
If we were serious about democracy some of this would simply be illegal; other aspects would be tightly regulated. In Scandinavian countries, TV advertising by political parties has either been virtually eliminated as in Norway and Sweden, or as in Denmark, restricted to public channels with time distributed equally to all parties. This tends to force political parties to actually engage citizens in more substantive and less manipulative ways.
There is certainly a dumbing down effect to micro-targeting, as a political strategy ( I almost typed tactic, because it does not seem to qualify as a strategy). It leaves voters wondering why we feel so disengaged from the larger questions, when what is really happening is that we are being manipulated with highly sophisticated and seductive repetitions of messages without any real debate.
Even the political debates with the four (when it should have been five) party leaders stood a lecterns in a studio in Ottawa with a moderator who introduced "real" questions from "real" voters in some far-off riding, with his hometown in the background, and the the chosen first speaker had X minutes followed by the second speaker with Y minutes, followed by a kind of "free-for-all" could hardly be called a debate.
It is another hollow show, a faux debate, like so much else in national politics, like that faux lake....and the real issues are not really unpacked, as they would be if only two leaders were in the room at any one time.
Appearances, like concerts for rock stars, are opportunities for leaders to 'sing' their favourite songs, using the same phrases they have memorized from their playbook, shaking a few hands, smiling (especially smiling) and genuflecting to the "great crowds" that have demonstrated their commitment to democracy by showing up, in another act of obsequiousness, for the cameras and the national reporters.
And we wonder why there is so much cynicism about the political process.
We should not wonder. We should take the process back from the "actors" who have become, for the few weeks of a campaign, the headline grabbers (usually based on some faux paux of some candidate, or some slashed tires by some angry thugs) and shape it to meet our needs, from an information perspective, including specific policies and their funding, and opportunities for more people to learn all there is to know about the candidates.
The process has a hollow, grade nine student council election ring to it, and the issues are far more important than how many dances there will be, and what it will cost to go to school games.