People who vote for a party with bad attack ads aren’t necessarily stupid

Canadians have been incessantly bombarded by televised Conservative party ads attacking both Justin Trudeau and Thomas Mulcair, and we’re just three weeks into the campaign period.

These ads seem to appeal to the lowest rung of unintelligent and uninformed voters. And it’s for that reason that some think negative attack ads will continue. Nevertheless, attack ads seem to have worked astonishingly well for Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his parliament.

A new poll by Ipsos indicates that recent party support hasn’t wavered, with Trudeau’s Liberals gaining two percentage points (up to 28 per cent) in support throughout July, but still trailing Harper’s Conservatives (31 per cent) and Mulcair’s NDP (33 per cent). Nine per cent of respondents to the poll remain undecided.

Some think it’s time to reconceptualize the strategy that focus group driven, tasteless and condescending cheap shots are, unarguably, effective campaign strategies. In other words, it’s time to rethink the way the government spends taxpayer money.

The 2011 election cost $291 million over 38 days. Elections Canada estimated that a 2015 campaign would cost approximately $375 million over a standard 37-day campaign period. With Harper announcing the 78-day campaign period for the 2015 election, it’s fair to assume that the cost will inevitably increase by tens of millions of dollars.

And even if you support the idea of a taxpayer-funded campaign, what’s the finished product? If you’re going to spend that much money polluting the airwaves with attack ads, at least hire C-list actors to replace the duds awkwardly scrutinizng Trudeau’s and Mulcair’s resume around a water cooler. The Conservative ads released this year are blatantly and laughably the result of some focus group. It’s as if they said “OK, we need a wise old white guy, a non-white minority of some sort so we look diverse, and a female, and BOOM! We’ve covered the voting landscape.” Throw in a jab at Trudeau’s good hair and they’ve covered all of their bases.

Naturally, humans pay more attention to negative information and deem it more memorable. That’s why attack ads seem to work. It’s also important to remember that the populace isn’t particularly concerned about the deterioration of political rhetoric. Clearly, the Conservatives have sunk to a new low. But even slightly more eloquent attempts (and I mean very slight) worded in a positive tone, such as Mulcair’s plea for #Fairness or Trudeau’s script reads are easily forgotten. Positive ads might work, but negative ads seem to work a lot better.

Does this suggest a flaw in our political system? Or are the voters the ones who are flawed?

The easy judgement would be to claim the stupidity of the populace. While some (especially some university professors) will complain in rhetorical flourishes and articulate elocutions about the deterioration of the modern mind since the days when Abe Lincoln debated in every city on the Eastern seaboard, the fact is that Canadians have never been more educated. Canadians are tuned in, discussing the issues, and given the vast amount of online journalism and alternative commentary buzzing through people’s social media feeds, Canadians aren’t simply absorbing what’s on the evening news either.

The fact is that it’s very difficult to simply generalize the reasons why people vote for a party whose primary means of promotion are attack ads, no matter how absurd the attack ads might be. It’s true that by the standards of any democracy, nine years is getting to be a pretty long time and in need of a change for its own sake.

But the Conservative government and their cabinet basically full of economic strategists have prevented the country from nose-diving as the rest of the world plummeted. What many voters wanting Harper out forget is that a nation’s stability is largely economic. Clearly Harper isn’t concerned with an ethics beyond his own insecurity about Canada’s place within global terrorism, and he often goes on to blatantly defy the principles that guide the political philosophy that undergirds his party by vocally supporting bills that give immigrants a hard time.

It takes quite the idealist to deny the importance of the national economy for every single citizen and for that matter, everyone seeking citizenship. For many people, economic strategy could simply be the reason. And given both Trudeau’s and Mulcair’s sketchy platforms regarding economic policy, one could say that they truly are “just not ready.”

It’s safe to say that almost everyone agrees that the ads are of an abominably low quality and that the sheer amount spent on them is ridiculous. But the populace has repeatedly given its confidence to a party that could care less.


  1. Why does this editorial say it was authored by “Gateway Staff”? I’m not sure I have ever seen an editorial written in any newspaper without the names of the authors mentioned .

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