Election in Ontario: Did opinion polls dissuade residents from voting? Commentators are divided
Trisha Chandratilleke never paid much attention to elections.
During his high school years, Canada’s politics and electoral system were vaguely mentioned, but largely ignored.
As she gets older, her disinterest in elections has been reaffirmed by what she says are years of broken promises from elected officials.
A 25-year-old masters student working for minimum wage to pay off her debt amid rising inflation, Chandratilleke says she has never seen the struggles of her demographic represented or addressed in election campaigns.
“If I vote for someone, what does it do for me?” the Brampton, Ont. native told Global on Zoom.
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And perhaps many Ontarians will agree, as the 2022 provincial election drew the worst voter turnout in the province’s history.
Only 43 per cent of eligible voters scored their “X” this time around, according to preliminary results from Elections Ontario.
“It’s more of a popularity competition against everyone. That’s what I’ve always noticed about elections,” she said.
This argument is at the center of criticism surrounding public opinion polls and their potential impact on voter turnout.
“I think it has a psychological effect [on voters]political commentator Seher Shafiq told Global News.
“It benefits political parties to know where they stand. But as far as the general public goes, I don’t see how that would make anyone more informed about the issues they’re voting on.
Ahead of Election Day on June 2, several opinion polls by polling firms suggested the Progressive Conservative party was in the lead or was expected to win.
Shafiq says the data also indicated that the NDP and the Liberal Party were nearly tied for second place. During their campaign, the NDP “didn’t really differentiate itself from the Ontario Liberal Party,” leading voters to believe that a vote for either party wouldn’t do much difference.
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A Queen’s University professor says the stream of opinion poll data quickly turned into a “dam” that drowned out back-and-forth debate on real issues that matter to voters.
“Opinion polls aren’t the problem per se,” Abray said. “They can be really useful for political parties to study the terrain and focus their spending… The problem is when they replace substantive conversation.”
“[Voters] were told for weeks before this election that the outcome was almost certain,” he said. “It creates a very strong sense of inevitability.”
And it can degrade the level of accountability that politicians are held to, Abray said, because reporters can focus on covering poll results instead of asking tough questions. Politicians can also sail smoothly to victory without acknowledging or drafting reform on uncomfortable or pressing matters.
“I would like to see fewer polls. We would end up with politicians in a position where they really have to solve problems because they can’t just step back and pretend to lead,” he said.
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We would also find ourselves in a position where politicians cannot gain the upper hand by using distorted data or “push polling,” which Abray says he witnessed during the election to sway voters.
After the election results, many wondered whether the balloting had actually helped discourage voters from turning out to vote.
But the senior vice-president of Ipsos Public Affairs says history has shown us that opinion polls aren’t the problem.
“Polls are nothing new,” said Sean Simpson.
“We’ve been polling in Canada during elections for 50 years, and yet we’ve never had an abysmal turnout like what we had here in Ontario in the last election.
Instead, Simpson says the “unique” circumstances surrounding the Ontario election could have played more of a role in why voters opted out.
“We know that a growing proportion of voters saw that neither party would be able to address many of the issues they saw as central to the campaign,” he said, emphasizing the inflation, rising house prices and rising cost of real estate. gas linked to Russia’s war against Ukraine.
Campaign leaders have spent far too much time attacking each other rather than focusing on allaying these affordability anxieties in the lives of Ontarians, Shafiq said. Many voters also may have “very easily” missed the fact that a provincial election was even taking place, she said, because people were starting to do things in person again and travel for the first time.
Nor was there a “ballot box” question that created a sense of urgency for Ontarians to get to the polls, according to Simpson.
In the 2021 federal election, politicians’ plans for COVID-19 stimulus packages took center stage. But in the last Ontario election, Simpson said, COVID-19 was no longer the primary concern.
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Apart from all that, Ontarians showed signs of disinterest in their “uninspiring” leaders, Simpson said, and perhaps a sense that their vote was entirely unnecessary.
“I certainly think people would be more likely to run if we had a different electoral system that actually counted every vote, rather than the first-past-the-post system. The fact that, in a certain constituency, if you vote for second place, it has no impact on the composition of parliament, it is frustrating.
Calls for an overhaul of Canada’s first-past-the-post system reignited after the Ontario election, as the Progressive Conservative party garnered nearly 40% of the vote, while winning 83 of 124 legislative seats. Nearly 53% voted for the NDP, Liberals and Greens in total, but those parties will have a total of 40 legislative seats.
The Liberals, who won nearly a quarter of the popular vote, will hold just eight seats.
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Redesign is a valid consideration, says Abray, if the Government of Canada is to commit to representing the diverse voices of its people.
“You can’t really claim to be a democracy unless you pay equal attention to the variety of viewpoints that exist in your society.”
But even then, an overhaul would not be an easy journey, as the decision rests with politicians, who will continue to “vote for a system that ensures their re-election every time”, he said.
As she prepares for another week of work and school, Chandratilleke doesn’t care about opinion polls.
What will really inspire her to leave her home and vote, she said, is when she sees her needs taken into account in party campaigns.
“As far as I’m concerned, that didn’t happen.”
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