The politics of politics

Sixty percent of us aren't talking about it

Susan Delacourt, Chris Selley, Greg Fingas and Dan Lett review the latest report from Samara, this one on the engagement of Canadians in the political process. Of the numbers contained therein, I’m most interested in the finding that only 40% of respondents claimed to have participated in a discussion of a political or societal issue, either in person or over the phone, in the last year.

It would be interesting to know here how respondents defined a “political or societal issue.” Would traffic congestion count? Do 60% of us regularly go 12 months without talking about public schools, public transit, how long we have to wait when we visit the ER, the cost of post-secondary education, how homeless people ask us for change, a local incident of crime or the possibility that we might be unemployed at some point in the future? Probably not. And so I’m tempted to conclude that part of the issue here might be that we generally take a restrictive view of politics. Many of us, I’d guess, define politics as “that which involves politicians and/or recent matters of tragedy, controversy or note.” So Mike Duffy is a political issue, but the time required and manner of your daily commute is not.

Regardless of how we define it, there is also the matter, as Alison Loat notes, of how we regard the idea of discussing politics: “Politics is viewed as a dirty word something that isn’t appropriate or that should be celebrated.” Like religion, politics is not to be discussed around the dinner table. And like most of MTV’s reality television programming, its participants are viewed with cynicism and scorn and to watch it closely is not something one is generally advised to brag about to strangers or employers.

A certain degree of skepticism is probably healthy and you’re surely forgiven if you’d rather not argue with your parents around the dinner table about the long-gun registry. But trouble comes when it’s generally decided that politics is nothing to do with us. Because that is terribly mistaken.