Is Voter Apathy the Result of a Lack of Inspirational Candidates?

Elections Poster

Every candidate running for public office is good at one thing: Making election promises.

Do you know what election winners aren’t good at? Fulfilling the promises that got them elected.

Every election, Torontonians hear the same election promises:

  • “I’ll address housing affordability in Toronto!”
  • “I’ll reduce crime!”
  • “I’ll remedy our transit issues!”
  • “I’ll make our streets safe for our children and bicyclists!”
  • “I’ll make sure your tax dollars aren’t being wasted.”

Politics has a built-in incentive to tell people what they want to hear. Is there another way to get elected besides telling people what they want to hear?

Most candidates either make a half-hearted effort or do not campaign at all. It makes me wonder if these candidates put their names forward just to appear on the ballot or to be able to say, “I ran for ________.” Many think “I ran for mayor in 2022.” or “I ran for councillor in Ward 20.” will look good on their resume and LinkedIn profile; it shows they’re civic-minded.

Making a difference in the community doesn’t require being elected. Where were all these candidates in their community over the past 5 years? How involved are they in their community, if at all? How much experience and leadership skills do they have to lead North America’s 4th most populous city or represent a ward with sometimes over 400K constituents?

A candidate, especially if they’re challenging an incumbent, should possess political acumen, leadership skills, negotiation skills, networking skills, savvy social media skills, and above-average communication skills. How many candidates possess these skills? Besides these skills candidates also need to be charismatic, project a trustworthy image and be known throughout their community. This may partly explain why 59% of eligible voters didn’t bother to vote in the 2018 Toronto municipal election.

I haven’t even mentioned the key to political success, the same key to most of life’s successes: Knowing the right people and having the right supporters. Most candidates think they can “just show up.”

Those candidates who do dabble at campaigning, primarily by posting and tweeting instead of meeting Torontonians, seem to believe that hating on John Tory or the incumbent they’re up against will win them votes. Toronto’s left-leaning populace—yes, I’m generalizing—doesn’t react well to US-style political attacks. People who are disengaged from politics often cite political bashing and a lack of civil dialogue as the reasons.

It wouldn’t be a stretch to surmise that there’s a strong correlation between low voter turnout and widespread political apathy because candidates running for office fail to present compelling reasons for voters to support them.

When I look at how candidates act, especially their crudeness on social media, candidates seem to have a sense of entitlement, which is a huge turn-off. It’s as if they don’t feel they need to earn the voters’ trust that they’ll represent their constituents’ interests. It’s fascinating what some candidates think will get them elected.

Candidates, including incumbents, should remember that nobody is owed to be elected. Candidates must demonstrate to voters that they’re the best candidate to represent their interests.

Rather than trying to come up with a new spin, candidates read from the same script, “Vote for me, and I’ll end all your problems.” Candidates don’t need to tell voters all that’s wrong with Toronto. Instead, candidates should explain why they can remedy what’s wrong. “Everything sucks” isn’t helpful. The relevant question: What can you do as Toronto’s next mayor or my councillor about all that sucks?

Only 41% of eligible voters casted a ballot in the 2018 Toronto election, which can be interpreted as the majority of Torontonians voted by “not voting.” Toronto’s municipal elections desperately need candidates who evoke the emotion of “Hell, yeah! I want this person to be Toronto’s next mayor!” or “Yes! Someone I can trust to represent my ward.”

Then there’s what I call horse-race journalism, repeating the rhetoric that incumbents “can’t be beaten.” It seems this sentiment is prevalent. As I write this, people are telling me their predictions of who’ll be the “obvious winners” on October 24th. Their predictions are based on “The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t,” which gives incumbents their advantage. Long before the election, there’s a sense that elections are over. The media predicting Doug Ford’s win this past June was the secret sauce that demotivated voters to Ford’s benefit.

Media forecasting is essentially directing the narrative of the election’s outcome. The media would serve Torontonians better by offering balanced coverage of Toronto’s issues and equal airtime for all candidates—even those labelled as “fringe candidates.”

It’s naïve to think that a new mayor and council members will transform Toronto into the utopia many believe it can be. For better or worse, Toronto has all the problems associated with a rapidly growing cosmopolitan. Torontonians themselves can make a significant difference for their community if they stop pointing fingers at politicians and expecting the government to be responsible for the well-being of their community.

Today’s Toronto exists because we accept it. Citizens create the livability of their city and community, not politicians. Volunteer, clean up, offer assistance, donate to charities, support local businesses, be a Toronto tourist, and engage with your neighbours and community. Most importantly care about who occupies the political offices that directly impact your day-to-day life.

Get to know the mayoral candidates. Become familiar with the candidates running for councillor in your ward. Read their platform. Reach out with questions or ask for clarification. Judge if their election promises are realistic. Determine whether they have the experience to bring their platform to fruition as 1 vote out of 26, keeping in mind the mayor’s new veto powers. Inform yourself. Make a choice and on October 24th, vote!

“Casting a ballot isn’t just something you do for yourself — it’s for our collective future.” — Oprah Winfrey

Nick Kossovan, a self-described connoisseur of human psychology, writes about what’s on his mind from Toronto. You can follow Nick on Twitter and Instagram @NKossovan

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