Wednesday, 31 August 2011
Want to make a difference? Volunteer in a Local Campaign
Royce Koop, Simon Fraser University
Canadians and Manitobans are seriously cynical about politics. Manitobans tend to believe that, even if they wanted to have an influence, there is not much that they can do as individuals to really have an impact on politics.
But I’m here to tell you that you can have a real influence on politics in Manitoba. And the best part is that you can do so while never leaving your own community.
How, you ask? By getting involved in a provincial campaign in your riding. This can be for any candidate from any party. As it happens, Manitoba has a provincial election coming up and candidates are already in campaign mode. So if you’re thinking about jumping into politics, it’s the perfect time to do so.
Does getting involved in a local campaign really make a difference? For a long time, political scientists doubted that it did. We thought that elections were all about national campaigns and leaders. If the leader ran a good campaign, then local candidates would be swept up in the tide. But if the leader ran a terrible campaign, then local candidates were doomed.
But we now know that you can make a difference by getting involved in local campaigns. Most importantly, you can help candidates increase their vote shares. Using statistical models, political scientists have demonstrated that increased numbers of campaign volunteers, more campaign donations, and increased contact between campaigns and voters all increase the number of votes that candidates receive. Sometimes, it’s enough to push candidates over the top and get them elected.
So, you’re interested in making a difference through local campaigning. How do you do so? That’s easy. First, if you don’t already support a party, then you have to choose one. Once you make a decision, google the party candidate in your riding. Then give them a call or visit their campaign office.
What can you expect during your first visit to a campaign office?
First, you’ll be welcomed with open arms and perhaps tears of joy. Local campaigns are chronically short of volunteers. So it’s very likely that you’ll be greatly appreciated from the get-go.
Next, you’ll probably have a choice of tasks to tackle. You’ll be able, for example, to deliver lawn signs for the candidate around the riding; phone voters and see if they’ll consider casting their ballots for your candidate; deliver literature to voters; and canvass your neighbourhood with the candidate while knocking on doors and visiting with voters.
But the real drama takes place on election day. You may want to be a scrutineer, monitoring voting stations to keep a sharp eye out for election fraud shenanigans. You may want to call sympathetic voters to ensure that they have cast their ballots. You may want to drive voters to the polls—these “get out the vote” activities are crucial to winning. And you’ll definitely want to go to your candidate’s victory party and cheer alongside your fellow campaigners as the results pour in.
Now, I don’t want to be accused of false advertising. If you get involved in a Tory campaign in the Maples where the NDP is strong, for example, you’ll have a tough row to hoe. And if one of the leaders runs a terrible provincial campaign, then it will be harder still for you to get your local candidate elected.
But even in these cases, there are exceptions. In the last national election, Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff ran a poor campaign and local candidates across the country suffered as a result. But in my old riding, Kingston and the Islands, a neophyte Liberal candidate, Ted Hsu, beat the odds and got elected.
This was no small feat, as the Tories poured resources into the riding. But Hsu won anyway. Part of the reason he won was because Hsu’s campaign organization was full of committed, hard working local campaigners.
So local campaigning is one way for you to exercise a real influence on politics in Manitoba, all while working within the context of your own community. But there’s one final reason why you should think about helping out a local campaign.
It’s fun. In a 2000 survey, members of Canadian parties were asked why they stuck with their parties. Many of those surveyed responded that they stayed for solidary reasons. What this means is that they enjoy the feeling of being a part of a team—kind of like cheering for the Jets with your friends—and value the friendships that were forged while participating. The exhilarating drama of campaigns and election nights forge enduring friendships and strong loyalty.
So if you want to make a difference in Manitoba and have fun, think about giving local campaigning a try.
The U2011 Understanding Manitoba's Election events continue on noon on Thursday, September 8th at the Millennium Library with Dr. Royce Koop of Simon Fraser University, Robert Ermel of the Manitoba Institute for Policy Research, and Dan Lett of the Winnipeg Free Press busting myths about election campaigns. For more information see umanitoba.ca/u2011.