Disengaged? Fixed Date, Democracy and Understanding the 2011 Manitoba Election
By Andrea D. Rounce and Jared J. Wesley
Published by University of Regina Press
Review by Allison Kydd
$39.95 ISBN 9780889773554
A book written primarily by academics for academics may not initially jump off the shelf. Then there are the realities of publishing date-sensitive material; contributors’ reasonable comments and assumptions can be out of date by time of publication. Yet Disengaged?, a disassembling of a particular election, identifies important issues and has implications beyond the province of Manitoba in 2011. It also made fascinating reading while the country was in the midst of the 2015 federal election campaign.
As suggested by the title, Andrea Rounce, Jared Wesley and nine other contributors focus on voter engagement, as democracy depends on an engaged electorate. Insights about voter participation are also relevant outside Manitoba, and political science professor Wesley compares Manitoba voter trends with federal rates and those of other provinces. He also provides some historical background.
Unfortunately, some comments are out of date. For instance, Wesley makes no mention of “the orange sweep” and election of New Democratic poster girl Rachel Notley in Alberta. Neither do speculations about the significance of a fixed election date predict Manitobans going to the polls on April 19, 2016. The switch from “fixed” date of October 6, 2015 was to avoid overlapping with the federal election, October 19, 2015.
Not only was the turnout of Manitobans low in 2011, but graphs reveal a steady decline since the end of the Second World War. Studies also show young people, immigrants and Aboriginals as least likely to vote, trends that hold true across the country. This observation inspires a chapter on voting patterns among Aboriginals. Since newer methods of communicating often attract younger voters, how New Democrats (NDs), Progressive Conservatives (PCs) and Liberals use social media in their campaigns also rates its own chapter. There are speculations about immigrant communities, but no separate chapter, perhaps because most immigrant groups settle in cities, where communities are harder to isolate.
Another rationale for this book is the “surprise” outcome of the election. According to Wesley, Manitobans aren’t in the habit of electing one party for more than three consecutive terms; yet in 2011, the NDs not only won a fourth term, but also increased their majority. The Liberals – predictably, for Manitoba – only claimed one seat, but the race with the PCs was close. Some polls even showed the PCs ahead.
Many chapters rely on studies or polls, some hard to interpret, and sometimes test groups seem too small to be meaningful. On the other hand, a Winnipeg Free Press editor offers a wide-ranging survey of the role of the media, mentioning newspapers and television and radio stations most people – even Manitobans – have never heard of.
Though limited by the availability of experts and the information available to them, this study of the 2011 Manitoba election attempts to be comprehensive, and contributors have tackled their specific parts of it seriously. It is also commendable that with Disengaged?, analysis of the electoral process and outcomes is brought into the public realm, not confined to political insiders alone.
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