They know what they don’t like


For its latest report on the state of our democracy, Samara consulted the public.

Overall, our research shows that declining political engagement is, at least in part, due to concrete experiences with politics. Indeed, participants’ answers belie the notion that the Canadian public is not knowledgeable or sophisticated enough to understand how their political system works. Rather, the people we spoke to are keenly aware of the forces that affect politics.

Greg Fingas looks on the bright side.

Of course, there figures to be far more work done in convincing voters who have decided the political process is futile. But Samara’s conversations suggest that there’s a massive potential constituency for anybody who can successfully convince doubtful voters that it’s possible for politics to result in real positive results for ordinary people (as a matter of substance rather than sloganeering). And that in turn should offer hope for the engaged group that its work can lead to significant results if it helps to make that case.

Craig McInnes wonders what a better system would look like.

One way to look at these findings is to say that all parts of the system, from political par-ties to politicians to governments, need to become more service-oriented. No doubt that would help. We need to feel as if the public service works for us, that our MPs and MLAs are representing our views, not just answering to their party leaders.

But I wonder whether this isn’t also a question of unreasonable expectations. Successful democracy can’t be defined as a system that allows everyone to achieve exactly what they want. That is too high a bar. What we can strive for is a system that gives anyone who wants to participate a chance to feel as if their voices matter even if their views don’t prevail.


They know what they don’t like

  1. As usual, nothing ever changes in this country.

    Now we’re once again involved in ‘process’ ….something most people don’t care about….rather than moving forward.

    • Unfortunately, something is changing in this country: there’s an unmistakable trend towards growing citizen disengagement and cynicism regarding their political institutions, the Occupy movement notwithstanding.

      • I think it’s more likely that we’re now able to see other countries doing exciting new things, and watch tech…elsewhere…. moving rapidly….yet we’re constantly covering old ground.

        Once again our ‘govt’ is immersed in talk about separatism, gun control, abortion, the fisheries, seal-hunting, killing our tech, religion, protectionism, oil, and how best to suck up to the US in hopes of small mercies.

        Repetition isn’t something to vote for.

        • And…and…[he proclaimed breathlessly] we’ve got pictures of Elizabeth II hanging all over the place again! The 50s are back…can rotary dial phones be far behind?

          • LOL agreed.
            The monarch, the military, the words to the anthem…all doing the rounds again. And we’re awash in hockey and maple syrup and the mounties.
            At this rate we’ll be back to the old candlestick phones!

  2. I followed the link to that study, and began to read.  On page 1 of the introduction the authors manifestly demonstrated that they don’t know the meaning of the word “disinterested”

    • Well now some have decided that the ‘disinterested’ really only want better curbs and gutters, or speed bumps or day care.

      Local municipal stuff….even though municipal voter turnout is lower than anyone elses.

  3. ” Indeed, participants’ answers belie the notion that the Canadian public is not knowledgeable or sophisticated enough to understand how their political system works. Rather, the people we spoke to are keenly aware of the forces that affect politics.”


    That’s the sound of 68 million legs being pulled.   Samara seems more concerned with not hurting the feelings of people than solutions.

    Briefly, Samara’s analysis betrays an abhorrence of personal responsibility.  The stick of shame beats the carrot of pandering in this spot, although I’m sure our friend Emily will find both excessively phallic.  What we need is Ralph Klein circa 1998, and maybe Mike Harris and the ING Direct guy too, sh!tfaced on a flat of Molson Ex quarts shaming these people.  I and many other Canadians have spent hundreds of hours reading and learning about my country so as to be informed – others can and should do the same.

    There is something uniquely Canadian about blaming other people for your own (in)actions.  

    tl;dr:  Many Canadians are in fact ignorant and apathetic, and that’s nobody’s fault but their own.

    • Hi Neil,

      Samara is a research organization, and with this project, the interest is in bringing forward voices that aren’t often included in discussions on why people don’t participate in politics.  As is well documented, this is number is growing.  

      For those interested in improving the quality of politics in Canada and making them more relevant to people, it’s important to hear from those that aren’t usually consulted. As the old adage says, “talk to your critics, they first learn your faults!”  


      • Thanks for the reply; Andrew Potter touched on this:

        ‘it’s important to hear from those that aren’t usually consulted’

        by suggesting that federal policy has in fact been tailored to pandering to several of these specific groups for several decades now. I’m curious how you would respond to that.  

  4. From the report: ” We sought participants 
    who were less interested in political affairs and 
    more disengaged, but who were aware of current 

    So really, you can’t say your report actually represents those who are disengaged, but rather only a subset of them.. and in fact the subset that is specifically not apathetic, disinterested, and uninformed, and using them to come to the conclusion that the non-voters are not apathetic, disinterested, or uninformed.

    For their next trick, they’ll be taking focus groups of voters who own dogs to tell us that people who own dogs tend to vote.

  5. You are correct that focus groups cannot be used to generalize across the wider population, as we note in the report (and a full methodology is available in the appendix). 

    For about 20 years research has been done that shows people don’t vote because they’re not interested in politics.  Yet never has this research asked “why.”  So focus groups are used to start to frame the proper survey questions that can then be asked across the wide population, which Samara will begin doing later this year.  There is more information on page 23: http://www.samaracanada.com/docs/default-document-library/sam_therealoutsiders.pdf

    • The problem with this approach is that the skewed makeup of your focus groups is going to skew the questions determined, because you won’t have the questions that can accurately gauge the opinions of those who really *are* disinterested, apathetic, and uninformed.

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