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Ibbitson Replies

Should attack ads be banned? Add to ...

The Globe and Mail's Ottawa Bureau Chief will be responding to a selection of reader comments throughout the election campaign. Today, John Ibbitson replies to your take on his piece on campaign strategy ( Has U.S.-style 'voter suppression' made it to Canada's election?).

From reader yetigen: Too much of the US-style politics made its way into Canada. The negative ads featuring personal attacks should be banned. Ignatieff has been running an excellent campaign for two weeks and he can't undo the damage done by months (and lots of $) of personal attacks by the Conservatives. Most voters don't take enough time out of their busy life to really get informed about the different platforms.

I would like to see a process where each tv and radio spots by a political party would need to be approved by a nonpartisan committee before being released.

John Ibbitson: It’s strange how quickly some people would surrender freedom of speech. Banning attack ads mean prohibiting certain forms of political expression. That’s not a slippery slope - that’s a steep plunge into authoritarianism. I don’t like attack ads any more than many others do, but I’m not prepared to throw away the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to prevent them. You would strike a committee that could prohibit certain forms of political advertising? There are countries that have such committees. What those countries don’t have is free and fair elections.

From reader Voiceoftheelder: I doubt the Con base is more committed than the core NDP base. Larger of course but hardly as committed. Do Liberals actually have much of a base? It seems they just pick up varying degrees of support from fringe right and left voters.

Are NDP supporters as committed as Tory supporters? An interesting point. The party’s support declines to dangerously low levels in the 1990s, and the NDP dropped below the threshold for party status in the House of Commons. If the NDP can now count on, say, 15 per cent of the electorate come hell or high water, just as the Tories can count on about a third of the electorate to vote for them regardless, then that will be Jack Layton’s achievement, and his most important legacy as leader.

As for the Liberal base, indeed it is harder to define, though the party has never dropped below 25 per cent in the polls, suggesting that about one voter in four supports them in good times and bad. That’s the problem with being a party of the centre, though: the Liberals have to cobble their vote together one election at a time.

From reader Bozo43: Voter suppression - What are you talking about? USA had great voter turnout in last election. If Canadians don't vote then it is because they feel none of the candidates are worth voting for.

Do some political parties in the United States still engage in voter suppression? That’s a fascinating question. Historically, voter suppression was widespread and pernicious, especially in the South, where conservative politicians colluded to make it virtually impossible for African Americans to vote. A lot of blood was spilled before the Voting Rights Act of 1965 put an eventual end to it.

In the 2008 campaign, the Republicans accused the Democrats of supporting community groups like Acorn, which sought to register voters who typically don’t cast ballots. Acorn, the GOP maintained, was cooking the voters list by adding fake names. It did seem strange that Donald Duck had registered to vote. The Democrats, in turn, accused the Republicans of voter suppression by trying to cut funding for Acorn. As it turned out, some Acorn members did abuse the system, though African Americans, Hispanics and students registered and voted in record numbers--almost all of them for Barack Obama.

I would say that in both countries, today, voter suppression is more passive than active. Negative advertising and other tactics seek to rally support to one party’s side. If those tactics convince people who might vote for their opponent not to vote at all, then that’s not worst outcome in the world, they reason.

Conservatives who weren’t happy with Sunday’s post on voter turnout point out that, in every election from 1984 till 2006, a higher voter turnout meant more support for their party.

 

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