I’m having one of those moments of reflection—the kind where you marvel at the fact that you’ve finally arrived at the end of an almost impossibly long journey. Election Day is right around the corner! So, how are Canadians feeling about the current state of play?
About 10 years ago, American psychologist Drew Westen declared that, “The political brain is an emotional brain.” Research into the interplay between voter behaviour and emotions notes the salience of three emotions: fear, anger and enthusiasm. The effects of enthusiasm and anger have been found to be generally similar: they lead voters to adhere to their party loyalties and increase political participation. In short, they help to shore up the base and get the vote out. Fear can have the opposite effect: it’s more likely to produce open-mindedness and increased learning. Thus, fear is the emotion that can sway the undecided and soft vote. Enter the Niqab.
Recall that we assembled an election panel, putting the ‘public’ back in public opinion, like a panel of advisers. This group of Canadians agreed to be called on during the campaign to share their thoughts, opinions and feelings about how the election was unfolding for them. Our methodology draws on a lot of depth and insight from voters across the political spectrum. Media pollsters and aggregators are sketching the topline picture for us. But what lies beneath? Let’s see.
Last weekend, we called on our election panellists to first: tell us whether they were feeling mainly fearful, angry, enthusiastic, or nothing at all about the election and the state of the country. And then second: to write about why they were feeling this way. Here’s what we found:
A considerable amount of Conservative supporters are fearful. Some are enthusiastic, few feel nothing at all, while even less are angry.A big group of NDP supporters are fearful, followed closely by a group of those who feel angry. Less are enthusiastic or indifferent.A large number of Liberal supporters are also fearful, while others are fairly evenly split between and enthusiastic. Not many feel nothing at all.Going through our panellists’ explanations of their feelings—perhaps the most striking aspect is the almost ubiquitous presence of Stephen Harper in what they wrote. In sharp contrast, Justin Trudeau is mentioned only a handful of times, while Tom Mulcair not once—not even among those who say they would vote for him.
NDP and Liberals supporters explained that the fear they feel is based on the prospects of another Harper government, possibly even a majority. And, similarly, those among them who are mainly enthusiastic are looking forward to the prospects of a post-Harper Canada, not so much a future NDP- or Liberal-led Canada—there’s an important difference there.
Conservative supporters said they fear a Harper loss and the negative impact such a result would have on the economy and national security (i.e. the threat of terrorism). Compared to the NDP and Liberals enthusiasm, Conservatives have more true believers in their ranks—it’s as much pro-Harper and the Conservatives as it is anti-alternative.
Here is some of what our panellists told us:
“People aren’t thinking strategically, the ‘liberal’ vote is split three ways between NDP, Liberals and Green. We have to get Harper and his Cons out, but with this three-way split, it’s a bit scary.”“I am looking forward to having a new PM and new party in power.”“We have the respect of the entire world, our PM is a superb statesman, our people are well-off and we have an opportunity to live within reasonable means because of it. I’m proud to support a government that finally kept EVERY campaign promise they made.”“I am worried about the number of refugees who are coming into Canada. Many of them are violent and are not willing to obey the laws of our land.”“I worry the Conservatives will be returned to power and continue doing irreparable harm to Canada.”“I am enthusiastic at the thought of a government led by someone other than Stephen Harper.”“I am frustrated with the potential progressive vote splitting and our whole electoral system. The thought that we may get the Conservatives back with less than 40% of the vote makes me crazy.”“’The NDP has the best chance to kick Stephen Harper out of government and to bring back sensible, principled, well-thought-out plans…” The tight race to Election Day, coupled with a lack of real enthusiasm among NDP and Liberal supporters for their leaders, could suggest that this anti-Harper fear creates the ideal conditions for voter sway between progressive parties. This is a challenge for all three parties. Who on the progressive side can capture these conditions and create layered support? Or, will the progressive vote split, allowing for the Conservatives to come up the middle?
Come Election Day, Canadians have a choice to make. With so much still in flux, the one thing that is clear from the conversations we’ve been having with voters is that they will undoubtedly bring their emotions to the ballot box with them.