01.29.2011 08:20 AM

The latest, greatest political meme

A couple weeks ago, it was “ethical oil.” Oh my! The punditocracy loved that one. You couldn’t get into the parking lot at Tim Horton’s (another popular meme) without hearing all about “ethical oil.” It was everywhere, that one. ¬†Democratic deficit, the angry vote, the West wants in, blah blah blah.

Now, the latest political equivalent of the pet rock: “only fifteen per cent of Canadians pay attention to politics.”

Really? Is that so? How does one measure that, pray tell? If the pollsters define “paying attention” as eating, breathing and sleeping Tony Clement’s tweets, and being positively breathless about every idiotic thing that Official Ottawa says or does, well – I guess – the number of those who “pay attention” would indeed be rather small. Sure.

But what of the millions of Canadians who vote in elections? What about them? Is the pollster saying the sixty per cent who regularly show up to vote are sleepwalking? That they are heading to polling stations to merely socialize?

Or, maybe – just maybe – this is a way for elitist snobs to publicize Plato’s Protogaras, and insinuate that they think voters are dumb, because the dummies don’t pay as much attention to Question Period as pollsters do. Or the media. Or shut-ins. ¬†And, ipso facto, they are therefore not worthy of a vote.

If you ask me, and perhaps a pollster will one day, I think voters are pretty smart. And they see quite enough coming out of Ottawa, every day, to form a rather accurate assessment.

To suggest that only fifteen per cent of them “pay attention” is pure snobbery, or worse.


  1. smelter rat says:

    It’s a phrase canadiannonsense has taken to parroting lately, if that tells you anything.

  2. When a campaign begins more people start to pay attention. Nik Nanos did a recap on CPAC on October 15, 2008. He talked about how the Thanksgiving weekend with family and friends saw a bump for the CPC. Prior it was the Sienfied campaign or much ado about nothing.

    For political junkies, discussing politics is the norm.(Guilty) For those NOT interested in Politics it has the opposite effect. Voters show up to do their civic duty and I would suspect many of them don’t hold the political class in high regard. Sci-Fi-Comic Conventions have higher regard today.

    How do you explain so few involved in the actual organizations outside the campaign? How do you explain a small number of donors and volunteers? The public is not engaged or interested in each side blowing smoke. Our children won’t have time for the machinations and the hypocrisy of our political class.

    The MSM spent months crying foul about a 17 day break of parliament during the Olympics, the removal of penalties from the long form Census as a democratic crisis and the end of civilization. Why do you think the Big Red Machine and MSM were unable to stop Rob Ford?

    Each political party/leader wears out their welcome. Are we returning blue?

    • Ditto on the sci-fi comic conventions. Geeks like me rock! I’d rather have a Borg collective than the brain fart bullshit in Ottawa these days.

      • Thank you.

        It’s the economy stupid, job and making ends meet. The media will recycle the talking points of the NDP-Liberals and suggest “corporate cuts” are in the budget. They are NOT. Businesses of all sizes are being squeezed by the same forces as the middle class. Federal-Provincial Governments agreed to a combined rate of 25% by 2012. (Some like Ontario may take longer)

        I give props to “geeks” they are loyal and understand their cultural taboos of the world. Ignatieff as a leftist defender against the big evil corporations and military purchases simply won’t fly. This dog won’t hunt. Liberals were able to fake left when necessary, nothing unusual how like Salmon they return to the EXACT same stream. You have the NDP, Bloc, CPC grizzlies picking them off from all sides. What is left of the Liberals after the next election won’t be a pretty sight. (Iggy=John Turner)

        The Ottawa-Toronto-Montreal Media are out to lunch with the pulse of regular Canadians.

        The personal numbers of the leader affect credibility and trust to deliver the platform. Last time Dion was blamed for being a lousy torchbearer of the Liberal brand. The partisans too close to the Liberals can’t accept their brand has been damaged and all metrics show NO recovery. (Balance sheet, donors, volunteers, by election results, general elections)

        LAST POINT


        Here is a link if you don’t have you might enjoy.


    • Namesake says:

      Tell us again how the CPC didn’t really pull their dumb attack ads, Good King Senseless.

      • Are you referring to the two that took the Howard Dean yes yes yes way moment of Ignatieff that was ONLY posted on their political website?

        The CPC pulled them SO WHAT, they are available STILL, the MSM and their cheerleaders have rushed to defend what is FAIR political discourse and YET no rush to donations for Liberals?


        Did these two ADS do exactly what the first round “just visiting” ads do? Yes did they do it with ZERO media buy this time? Ask me again in two months. Simply review the time line of MSM crying foul over the Dion, Ignatieff political ads from the Conservatives.

      • Namesake says:


        When even one of QMI’s usual attack dogs brand those ads as “puerile” and feels obliged to DEFEND Ignatieff’s impassioned speech against the slurs (after writing him off as a “ponderous speaker” and as “slumped in his corner, winded,” just last week)…

        …well, you should see the writing on the wall: it was a bone-headed move, through and through.

        Tories must be careful playing with attack-ad fire
        By MICHAEL DEN TANDT, QMI Agency

      • PETE says:

        Gord, You and Canadian nonsense live the wet dream of a tory majority but w/o any realistic idea of how bad they really are and what very little vhance they have of even being elected back into government.

        Those ads show the desperation of Mr. angry to cast false aspersions on his opponent. This time they rebounded and made the harpercrites look very very foolish. I will even go so far as to say they crossed the rubicon of dirty political lies and the Liberals will make hay over their stupidity.

        Take your hands out of your pockets and get real.

  3. I’ve heard that number used before many times and I’m inclined to agree with it. Given that we have low voter turnout at elections (woe betide municipal politicians because the turnout in those elections are just freaking abysmal) and governments, Tory or Liberal (throw in the dippers foaming at the mouth from the sidelines) at the federal level who consistently engage in the game of laborious rhetoric and gamesmanship, people tune out. Yep, they pay attention at elections, those dwindling numbers each time, but by and large, I think Canadians are fairly sick of the following and that’s why they tune it out:

    1) Political reporters who are addicted to election speculation as opposed to reporting the news.
    2) A mainstream media that is hooked to the Jerry Springer like behavior of our federal politicians and report on THAT instead of a piece of legislation and how it affects our lives.
    3) A 24 hour news cycle that reports on the aforementioned two points.
    4) A lack of engagement by voters to the issues affecting us at every level – bad behavior plays a large part in this.
    5) Hyper partisanship on the part of ALL parties in Ottawa – it’s their crack and they’re junkies.
    6) Media hyper focusing on the almighty *leadership* issues that continue to plague the only frigging party that can actually form a damned national government in the country. (Sorry dippers, you guys suck and it’s not your leader we don’t like, it’s the company you keep.)

    It’s really like watching a train wreck for political junkies like me. I’d argue, though, that most people would rather get on with their daily lives than focus on the daily kindergarten games that our federal political system has become. It’s become more pronounced since Harper took over, but Liberal governments before him engaged in the same crap. People have bullshit filters. Most people filter out Ottawa bullshit because they have enough bullshit going on in their lives to worry about.

    For me, the irony of how screwed up our system is would be the fact that the separatists in Ottawa are the party we hear the least amount of bullshit gamesmanship hyper partisan kool aid drinking crap that national media seems intent on reporting.

    • Excellent analysis.

      I would add the paternalistic media has lost it’s grip or sway with the internet and rise of talk radio in the US and Canada.

      What the “left” is selling is no longer working with taxpayers.

      The financial changes with advertising television ads from the 1960’s has also changed the landscape. A pretty face, strong visual with deep pockets for media buying has become more important.

      • PETE says:

        More nonsense from the leader here on garbage posting. Why can’t the harpercrites even get close to majority territory WITH ALL THE TOOLS OF GOVERNMENT AT THEIR BECK AND CALL. They are not even controlling the agenda right now as the “left” has clearly signalled the tory time of waste and do nothing government is up and your wet dream is almost a nightmare.

        Harper will be the leader of the opposition on March 30 this year.

  4. AmandaM says:

    Warren, I think Nik was talking about in the context of everyday politics vs. campaign politics. Based on an unscientific and anecdotal observation of my current colleagues about 15% pay attention to everyday politics enough to have a conversation about it when a headline comes up. Outside of campaign politics, i.e. when a writ has been dropped, I agree that very few people pay attention like we do. We somehow find room in our lives for politics (at the expense of other things, maybe…) that the 85% don’t, except when a campaign is on – and I would argue that a lot of that 85% only pays attention in a campaign when things get rougher in the last week.

    This ties in nicely to another meme, that is that the collective political memory is 6 months: A politician can do almost anything unpopular, as long as it is done before the 6 months prior to an election. If only 15% of people are paying attention, and will remember all the horrible things that were done before the last 6 months, you’re golden, and explains re-elections of, oh, Prime Minister Harper et al. You’re a political pro (yes, you are, don’t say, “oh, go on!”) and I’m sure you know this much is true: There is a time to do unpleasant things (might be good policy, but horrible politics), and that time is just after being elected, when the only people who are paying attention are the die-hards, and not a moment after the 6 months before you’re due to run.

  5. Lance says:

    Mr. Kinsella, you cast a pretty wide circle in the world of Canadian politics. Obviously, I have no idea who your friends are, however, would it be fair to say that many of those people who know you and who you know in turn also eat, breathe, and live politics?

    Not everyone is like that, but that doesn’t mean that in general, voters aren’t smart, as you say. The smart ones know that they should do their civic duty and vote. But I’ve lost count of the times that I’ve heard people say they don’t follow politics other than briefly from what they see on the news, or only a little more intently during the brief times of an election campaign. I’ve lost count of the times that they say things like “all politicans are crooks”. It has become a case of picking the best of the worst. The electorate being smart doesn’t mean that they aren’t cynical – and for good reason; they simply see no point in being engaged. I’d say 15% is probably bang on. Why be engaged at all if you perceive things as staying the same no matter who is running things?

  6. CQ says:

    I rarely see any non-white Canadians ever included to speak of, discuss, or write about Ontario or Federal politics. That’s gotta represent 30% or more right there. Perhaps there are not even any white faces being included which aren’t “passing WASP and also straight”. Look around: the faces of the newspapers, the faces of the TV panels. Almost the only visible minorities I see in news are local TV reporters and desk anchors developed through entertainment or sports coverage – never included within national or international scope topics excepting for direct issue race-based concerns.

  7. Marzolini says:

    The Globe headline does not say “only fifteen percent pay attention to politics”, nor does the data.

    Rather, 15% ARE currently paying attention to federal politics.

    Every January for 20 years, 40-45% of Canadians have told pollsters that they are paying a lot of attention to federal politics. Today in 2011 only 15% say they are paying a lot of attention.

    Why are voters currently turned off? That is a much better question than the character of the organizations who report such data.

    As you were.

    Cheers Warren.

    • Namesake says:

      Well, if it isn’t Patient Zero of the current meme, himself.

      As long as you’re doing a cameo, Mr. Marzolini, perhaps you could comment on this:

      What do you think of the rise of new Priest Class of the Head Pollsters as the All-Wise Pundits?

      They’re quoted reading the tea-leaves in almost every other federal Canadian political column & talking heads show, now, going ‘way beyond the data.

      And yesterday on Power & Politics, Bruce Anderson kept looking straight into the camera (instead of at Evan, whom he was ostensibly talking to) like he was running for office or giving a State of the Union address, or something.

      Are they media whores, shameless shills for their own firms, or has all the attention they’ve been getting in our extended Groundhog Day season just gone to their heads?

      • Jan says:

        I noticed that Bruce Anderson camera thing too – it was just plain weird – a kind of reverse Michelle Bachmann moment. I don’t remember pollsters being touted as pundits before this season.

    • W.B. says:

      That’s what I thought was said. The media types in Ottawa who think they are the only ones who matter get 90% of the media coverage, but the people are more interested in provincial and mostly municipal politics.
      Local politics is a lot more fun, in many ways more important, and with far less B.S. from the media. Local reporters try to fight off the impulse to think they are far more important and smarter than the politicians. And they try to resist the total self absorption and self importance we hear on Power and Politics.

  8. Excellent analysis.
    I agree the heavy lifting or repairing the brand and organization to compete with the CPC is not being done in earnest. The Liberals to their credit are not familiar with being in opposition so they are having a very difficult time trying to figure how to do both.

    I don’t know if a complete merger of the four parties in the left makes sense but if the numbers stay within the MOE we will have very little change in Parliament.

    Deploying another secret coalition is their shortest route to the public purse.

  9. Art Williams says:

    Warren, you know it’s true. Between elections most people are just living their lives. As long the country in not in a dire state, the time the average person devotes to thinking about politics is minute.

    • Bugzy says:

      Actually the country is in dire straight right now as we live and speak and have been for the past 5 years of Harpies hypocritical government. They haven’t gotten much satisfaction over the propaganda spewed daily by the Harper regime of narrow minded winded bags of stupidity.

      Trust me, we Canadians have been paying a great deal of attention about politics and can’t wait to give them the poll results he will not like . But Harper has shown how much of a coward he really is so dissolving Parliament or proroguing would not be any surprise by this cowardly PM. Wait until Canadians are so fed up with this PM that will consider following the Egypt people by demonstrating and revolting. I suppose that’s why he is so anxious to get those fighter jets we do not need nor can afford so he can show the world his manly side instead of the childish bully lying control freak he actually is..

      Cynic, People are not tuning out. They are anxious to have an election to place their vote and Harper is afraid of the election results and so is entire party

  10. PETE says:

    More wet dreaming Tulk. You seem to forget that several million liberal voters sat ont heir hands last election. Total voter count was way down almost all of that Liberal voters. They are not going to sit on their hands this election. Harper will be gone March30 if he has the cojones to call the election he is threatening to on March 29.

    • PETE says:

      You can’t even get the year right……..typical of the Harpercrite fans.

      Harper needs the election now to cut his losses which will be much worse later on. Dead man walking

  11. A. Cynic says:

    If only 15% pay attention – then why was there such an uproar when Harper prorogued parliament. Could it be when it’s same old same old – people just tune out?

  12. Ronald O'Dowd says:


    This Prime Minister is boxed in with two alternative scenarios: choosing between one extremely bad and another infinitely worse — from his perspective. He can take a proactive tact and sink his own government in an attempt to control both the timing and the outcome, as best he can, or conversely, he can allow the natural opposition coalition to bring down his government.

    Either way, it’s a zero-sum-game for Harper one which is likely to find him on the opposition benches. And given that, internal party pressure will build to a tremendous level which will likely lead to his resignation within a six month time frame after becoming opposition leader.

  13. Brian says:

    I’ve always said the obsession with voter apathy is a waste of time. Voters care when they have a reason to care, or are given a reason to care. Otherwise, their focus is on living their lives. As it should be.

    If democracy demands that voters actually sit and watch Newsworld all day to be sufficiently engaged as voters, then we need to be thinking about an alternative system.

  14. Craig Chamberlain says:

    “To suggest that only fifteen per cent of them ?pay attention? is pure snobbery, or worse.” — WK

    Worse, much worse.

    It’s an argument for how outdated democracy has become. We are content to be ruled by the ruling class, it seems to say. It reminds me of a poli sci prof who argued on CBC Radio that MPs actually sitting in the House is really not that big of a deal. Can’t remember if that was during the break from first OR the second time parliament was prorogued — which incidentially will define Mr. Harper’s legacy.

  15. The Doctor says:

    I just don’t see why WK made that leap in his post — i.e., suggesting that the 15% number meant that whoever was citing it was implying that this meant that the other 85% are “dumb” or whatever. Nobody said that. Nobody even implied it. I happen to be a political junkie, as are nearly all of the people who post here. I certainly don’t think that being a political junkie, and thus being obsessively tuned in to politics, means you’re smarter than those who aren’t. I know lots of uber-intelligent, accomplished people who just don’t happen to care a lot about politics. Most of my friends are university-educated professionals, but when we’re sitting around chatting, politics is virtually the last topic that will ever come up.

    I also don’t understand why certain Liberal Party partisans have gotten it into their heads that making the demonstrable observation that a lot of people are turned off and/or apathetic about politics is somehow a CPC talking point. It’s entirely a neutral, factual, non-partisan observation.

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