Apathy and The Facebook Solution

[Cache #178]

By Andris Pone
President, Coin Branding

Why bother voting?

In what was effectively a referendum last week on whether to keep in power the world’s most famous Canadian, only 60% of Torontonians cast a ballot – and relative to past Toronto elections, that was considered a big and impressive number, characterized in the media as “high voter turnout.”  The 60% ballpark happens to be the same as the percentage of Canadians who bother voting in federal elections, which is also the same proportion as Americans who do.

So basically, barely more than half of us go to the trouble of getting off the couch, walking a few feet and picking up a pencil.

But here’s the problem: we have heard the reasons we should vote, and they are boring.  They are also irrelevant, because they do not sufficiently connect with some of the most fundamental needs that drive our behaviour, which are to feel useful, wanted, validated and shall we say liked – for it is these very needs that the most successful mass participation exercise in history, Facebook, presses directly upon.

Some of the boring and irrelevant reasons to vote are:

  • it is important to exercise your democratic rights, or guys like Stephen Harper will take them away.  Don’t be fooled by those hugs he gave Justin Trudeau and Thomas Mulclair, because he didn’t really mean them.
  • use your vote or we’ll get invaded:  Vladimir Putin watches our federal elections very closely, and also the CFL draft, and when he sees voter turnout get below, say, 50%, he is coming over the North Pole, just wait and see.
  • it is your obligation as a citizen to play a part in shaping our civic life, whatever that means.
  • vote or you won’t have the right to complain for the next four or five years, as if that’s going to stop you.


facebook logo

None of these purported reasons can overcome the fact that in Canada and the United States we are very free, that our democratic systems are stable, and that government continues to deliver the services we care about most, despite low voter turnout.

If electoral officers, voters’ rights organizations, political parties and candidates actually want more people to vote, they will forget about the traditional, failed arguments  – and rebrand voting as something that feels very validating and incredibly good.

I was reacquainted with this feeling last week, while walking, skin tingling, out of the ballot box.  Sure, my guy won, but that wasn’t clear until hours later.  The basic fact is that the voting experience was all about me.

Indeed, the carefully scripted ritual of ballot-casting puts the customer in the middle like few other experiences.  You are snail mailed an invitation – how classic – to appear at a certain place at a certain time for a rare event.  The polling place is like a nightclub:  there is a lineup, you show your ID, and then they check to see if you’re on the list.  Then you get a secret ballot, which in municipal politics happens to be the size of a surfboard, walk to a booth protected from prying eyes, mark your vote(s), cover up your secret ballot again, and proceed to the voting machine where you, and only you, are allowed to cast your vote or even touch your ballot.

To borrow an American phrase, we, the people, are the stars of the voting process.  Forget about the fact that many of us don’t trust politicians, that we feel betrayed by the political system, and that our vote will almost certainly make no difference whatsoever to the outcome.  We are the same people who get a thrill from a handful of likes on the photo we posted of our morning coffee, our glass of wine, our pedicure or our cat.  We are the same people who post Facebook updates that literally say, “I’m going to find out who my real friends are by seeing who shares this.”

In that profound need to be appreciated, there is much for anyone who wants a voter – or a customer or an investor or any stakeholder – to lever.

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