Claudia Steele

 

Alberta Legislature on November 28, 2010, Photo by Daryl Mitchell

 

The very nature of democracy is for one to have the right to exercise their independent choice over who they feel will best represent their own or their communities’ concerns in government. But is this democratic freedom still being exercised if the voter chooses blind loyalty or team politics over making an educated decision? I would argue no.

As I would define it, team politics is the decision to choose political leaders the same way as one would select hockey teams. You find a team you like, proceed to go all in and buy all the memorabilia and then refuse to let go. Canadians do this every day when it comes to teams. You must look no further than the most faithful and loyal hockey fans in Canada, Maple Leafs fans. Despite the team not winning a Stanley Cup since 1967, Maple Leafs fans stay faithful to the end, which is an admirable quality in hockey but dangerous in politics. 

Unlike hockey teams whose wins and losses are inconsequential to your essential quality of life, political loyalties can be detrimental to the well-being of not only your life but that of your families and communities. Yet every election, countless people vote the same as they always have for no other reason than the status quo. Imagine being so invested in a ship that as it starts sinking, the captain jumps, but you choose to stay and go down with it instead of getting on a lifeboat. 

This may seem crazy, but it doesn’t stop it from happening. On Feb. 15, 1980, The National’s anchorman George McLean reported on a story about decreased party loyalty, but 40 years later, studies are finding it is not only increasing but may even be a possible reason why Canadians are more polarized. In fact, the Digital Democracy Project findings state that those who have stronger loyalties to their party and see opposing parties and their followers as more remote from them are more likely to be polarized. 

In a research paper titled The Power of the Dark Side: Negative Partisanship and Political Behaviour in Canada, Nicholas Caruana, R. Michael McGregor, and Laura B. Stephenson write about positive partisanship or party identification. They describe it as a psychological attachment someone has for a political party and say it can affect social identity. This means loyalty and association to a party becomes as much part of a person’s identity as where they’re from, what their name is or even what team they cheer for. 

When something is so ingrained into someone’s identity, it is hard to part with it even if parting with it is the best thing for them. It also explains some of the patterns of loyalty that are passed on from generation to generation. You can find entire families that all vote the same for no other reason than parents and grandparents have always voted that way..

In some cases, you find voters who don’t bother informing themselves on platforms or politicians but simply back the party they always have no questions asked. This leads to many problems because often, those voters have no idea who or what they are voting for. 

A prime example of this was the last Alberta provincial election. At the time of the election, it was a common talking point that the daycare subsidy that the NDP had put in would be removed if the UCP won. This did nothing to deter die-hard Conservatives from voting for the UCP. Albertans, in my own circle of friends and acquaintances, who had knowledge of what was being said reassured themselves that their party wouldn’t do that in the end, and others didn’t bother to even look at the policy. Nonetheless, when the UCP won and eventually took away the daycare subsidy, parents, in my same circle, who voted for the UCP took to social media to complain. 

The question was always, ‘why  vote for something you know will negatively impact you?’ But what some see is that, firstly, all the other options are terrible and  secondly,  a vote against something they see as part of their identity can’t be right. 

This terrible dilemma that is plaguing voters is stopping the country from having a quality government. If unchanged, this could continue to polarize the country further and all for what? Pride in taking a side even if it isn’t the best one for you or your community?

It’s tough to say what the answer to this problem is. Even the studies I read had no clear resolution on improving the situation, just observations of causes and behaviours. Either way, it is time that we as a society put aside our party loyalties and look at the qualifications of politicians and the platform presented in order to make the right decisions for ourselves and our communities. We should treat voting like a thorough job interview where we get to decide who works for us for the next four years and leave our loyalties on the ice with the teams we choose to cheer on, even if they never win.

 

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