Abstention in elections: is boredom a possible cause?

While the last federal and provincial elections in Canada showed a relatively high abstention rate, is the boredom experienced by citizens during the elections one of the many factors that explain this phenomenon? Here is an analysis by David Crête, professor of marketing at the University of Quebec at Trois-Rivières (UQTR).


ANALYSIS – What will be the voter turnout in the October 3 election in Quebec?

In the last provincial election, it was 66%. In the most recent Ontario election, the outcome of which was predicted in advance, only 43% of citizens exercised their right to vote. In the September 2021 federal election, the rate was 63%.

Yet politicians have never been so present and active. They talk, make numerous announcements, express themselves, publish photos, videos. But all this blah-blah produces a kind of background noise that seems to stir up boredom and not interest. As if, the saying goes, too much communication kills communication.

It is common and rather common to hear that politicians use jargon, this rigid way of expressing themselves, with fixed, empty formulas, which often hides an absence of new ideas.

To this wooden language, we must add the famous “cassette”: when an elected representative constantly repeats a learned sentence, a line of communication, a message to be conveyed.

It’s about retaining control of the message and not going where they don’t want to go. Professor of marketing and communication at the University of Quebec at Trois-Rivières, and pursuing doctoral studies in philosophy and applied ethics, I explore here the fact that this combination “wooden language and cassette” is only one another ingredient that feeds boredom (that of the citizen). A boredom, it’s true, which doesn’t just lie in wait. He is there, very present all around us.

Boredom leads to indifference

Since the rise of the Web and social networks, it is obvious that the opportunities to communicate are unlimited. Many specialists and consultants have been emphasizing for several years the importance of exploiting these opportunities, of taking advantage of these tools.

But there is a strong association between boredom proneness and information and communication overload. When the effort to ingest and process all this exceeds our capacities, fatigue sets in. Does this mean that it would be appropriate to moderate these calls to communicate always and even more? Do it better?

In 1917, the Italian activist and thinker Antonio Gramsci describes perfectly in one of his letters why he hates the indifferent. Going to vote and taking an interest, even minimally, in political things seem obvious in a democracy. Gramsci, with a certain naivety which nevertheless resonates very strongly, reminds us of what is happening above our heads: that a few hands are weaving the web of collective life, but the masses are unaware of it because they do not care. don’t care.

It happens that the indifferent get angry. But few are those who will question their indifference, their inaction, their lack of interest.

Gramsci, a little like Machiavelli did, makes certain suggestions or qualities that should be specific to any politician. The main one: imagination. To be able to imagine the lives of citizens, their real needs, to propose real solutions. And thus avoid “dilettantism”, amateurism. Politics is obviously not a hobby that one exercises as an amateur.

Political debates away from the concerns of the people

Are public debates reaching voters? The questions currently being carried by the news, although often crucial, do they rather feed boredom and then indifference? Are current debates on nationalism, the French language and Quebec identity missing the mark? Do they only serve to interest a tiny fringe of the population? Will they have the power to lead Quebecers to the polls in October?

Last April, a survey showed that purchasing power and the economy are at the top of Quebecers’ concerns, along with health. Identity, language and immigration are quite far behind. Yet these themes occupy a large part of public discourse. The population seems relatively indifferent to it. Even the environment is not on the podium of the three themes that can influence the vote of Quebecers.

In 2020, the Institut du Nouveau Monde revealed, following a survey, that 68% of people questioned consider that elected officials do not attach importance to what citizens think. Additionally, 56% believe they don’t have much influence over the government.

Unconcerned voters

Quebec experienced its highest participation rates during the 1960s and 1970s. It even reached 84% in 1970 and 85% in 1976. These were decades of major social and political change. Yet politicians did not enjoy the means of communication that exist today. But it is assumed that the citizens were concerned enough to move.

Which is no longer the case today.

The philosopher Frédéric Gros uses the term “civic dissidence”. You can abstain from voting for many reasons. But in any case, we ignore this democratic call that the act of voting is essential. As he writes: “The dissident disobeys because he can no longer continue to obey.” He thus calls into question the social contract, revealing by the very fact that a democracy should be critical. That she is not an inert object. It is a sent signal.

David Crête, Professor of Marketing, University of Quebec at Trois-Rivières (UQTR)

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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