I have somewhat mixed feelings about the open letter that was written by my co-bloggers and posted here the other day (which I signed, by the way). There are lots of people out there who dislike Stephen Harper, but who dislike the kind of people who dislike Stephen Harper even more. And I’m sure even now Rex Murphy is penning a diatribe, about how the 587 signatures are a consequence of the tyranny of “political correctness” and “groupthink” in our universities. Others will dismiss it as mere partisanship, the ravings of the “Laurentian elites,” etc.
The “mere partisanship” argument fails to reflect the fact that not every issue attracts this sort of attention, or upsets people quite so much. I’m sure there are many items in the Conservative Party platform that are also broadly opposed by Canadian academics. Boutique tax credits, for instance, are opposed by pretty much every economist in the country. And yet you don’t see them writing big open letters. In other words, it’s not just partisanship and politics as usual. There is something about whipping up hostility towards a minority group, as a campaign tactic, that is especially offensive, or that is, as I put it, “beyond the pale.” That is why so many people are upset.
Again, there will be many Conservative apologists who will offer all sorts of exotic theories about why people are so upset with Harper – suggesting that we require the services of psychiatrists in order to decode this bizarre form of behaviour. There is, however, a much more obvious explanation. In fact, a single picture is enough to explain it all:
These are my results from the CBC Vote Compass questionnaire. You can see, in the major issue space, the four political parties, and where I wound up – based on my answers to a series of questions about my political views. (By the way, if anyone is surprised by where I wound up in this space, I was too.) Anyhow, the interesting part of all this is not where I wound up, but where the political parties are. What you can see is three political parties essentially competing for the same votes, and the Conservative Party all alone out there in right field.
The frustration that we are seeing right now is due to the fact that almost 70% of the electorate is parking their vote in that upper left quadrant. Given the current positioning of the Conservative Party, this election would be a cake-walk for a single, unified, centre-left party. But of course, if there were a single, unified, centre-left party, then the Conservative Party would not be positioned where it is.
What’s particularly frustrating to more intellectual types is that, if the election were focused on policy issues, then it would not be so difficult to overcome the vote-split – both NDP and Liberal voters would be more pragmatic, and support the candidate with the best chance of winning against the Conservative in their riding. Because when it comes to policy — looking at the big picture — there simply is not that much difference between the parties. The reason the split is hard to overcome is because of other factors, like partisanship, political identity, personal qualities of the leaders, not liking someone’s dead father, etc. etc.
In any case, you don’t need any exotic theories to figure out why academics are unhappy — the “elites” in this case, are not out of touch with ordinary Canadians, on the contrary, their position is pretty close to that of the median voter.
Speaking of vote-splitting, I would like to draw attention to the excellent work done recently by Ali Kashani, on swing ridings in the election, where the NDP/Liberal vote-split is projected to result in a Conservative being elected. In particular, he identifies 16 ridings where a Conservative is currently leading, where the combined NDP-Liberal vote is enough to defeat that Conservative, and where either the NDP or the Liberal candidate significantly trails the other. (To make it even, he identifies 8 ridings where Liberals should vote NDP, and 8 ridings where NDP voters should support the Liberal.)
I encourage you to read and pass along the entire article.